Anxiety

Why We Put Pressure On Ourselves

focused

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Dave Elledge.

In a world measured by statistics, how can I not judge my own worth and efforts in the same way?

This week I’ve been learning more about how to market my writing. Marketing has always been a problem for me, because:

  1. It’s hard;
  2. I get frustrated that it’s not happening quickly;
  3. I get frustrated that I cannot use brute force to make it happen faster, and;
  4. I fear that my work and efforts are not good enough, and therefore I am not good enough.

I’m particularly vulnerable when it comes to marketing, because it is totally a numbers game; statistics are the only way to measure if what I’m doing is effective.

Where I come unstuck, is when I equate ‘effective marketing technique’ to ‘being talented,’ and ‘being talented’ to ‘having significance’.

And it all starts with this voice in the back of my head, playing like a song on repeat.

phone

Copyright Creationswap, photo by Aaron Burden.

When I start to worry about the numbers, this voice says:

 “Doing my best and accepting God’s plan is not enough. I have to be as good as, or better than, everybody else.

“I have to be the best. Anything less is failure. Failure is unacceptable.

“Not only do I have to be the best; I have to be special. I have to be recognized.

“God’s approval on my life is not enough; I crave the approval of others.

“It doesn’t matter that this season of ‘rookie-ness’ is drawing my soul closer to God. I have to ‘make it’ by the standards I see in others, the media, and those I set myself.”

This voice is both quiet and loud. It’s quiet enough that I don’t recognize it for what it is. It’s quiet enough that I almost never question it. It’s quiet enough that I’m used to it being there.

But it’s loud enough to make me discontent and anxious. It’s loud enough that I believe my current efforts are not good enough. It’s loud enough that it sucks my joy and peace and energy.

But I have to recognize that measuring the effectiveness of my marketing strategy is very different to measuring my value as a writer, or as a person who lives to please God. In fact, the statistics are completely irrelevant as to whether I’m living a life that pleases God. Gaining my self-worth from statistics, instead of God, is actually displeasing to Him. And since the purpose of my life is pleasing God, this little numbers-obsessed voice has got to go.

The only way I can think to do that is to replace it with God’s voice, and focus on the truth.

“Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.”

Isaiah 55:2-3 NIV

“… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

God, please help me recognize this voice when it starts to whisper lies to my mind. Please alert me to other negative messages just like it. And please help me to draw my self-worth, and my entire being, from You and You alone.

What about you? Is there an area in your life where you’re similarly vulnerable? Share in the conversation below!

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NO MINISTRY, NO CAREER, NO MAN. GREAT PLAN? PART III

Image sourced from CreationSwap.com, made by Mark Lauman.

Image sourced from CreationSwap.com, made by Mark Lauman.

A miracle happened today.

After finally starting my new part-time job in retail (in addition to my existing part-time gig at the boarding school) I got a phone call about another job. Another big decision. (That’s not the miracle. Wait for it.)

My last big job decision led to the contentment crisis I wrote about in Part I and Part II. It involved weeks of nail-biting stress and fear of making the wrong decision. It even triggered a hissy fit about cheese.

Today I hung up from the phone call which could lead to another major decision and waited for the sky to fall in. I was about to hit the panic button and ring Mum when I paused and prayed.

Then I waited. And all was calm.

MIRACLE!

What? Calm? After the soap opera-worthy drama that raged in my head last time? Yep. So far it’s been a whole hour, and I’m still doing pretty good.

What changed?

It wasn’t simply the fact that I prayed. I prayed last time. I prayed like I was drowning and using my last breath to squeal at God. I prayed with desperation, begging for guidance and not really expecting to get it. I prayed without faith.

God has since pointed out to me my shocking lack of faith. Really, you’d think I’d get it by now. Not only do I have numerous examples from my own life when God’s been trustworthy, there’s also a bazillion examples in the Bible of faith and faithlessness. Remember what happened to the faithless Israelites? Forty years of wandering! Yikes. But what happened when Peter had faith? He walked on FREAKING WATER!

So I’ve been praying for faith and wisdom this week. God’s also pointed out to me (again) these verses from Philippians 4:

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

So this time, when I prayed, I didn’t whine, groan or gasp. (Although for some prayers, that’s fine.) This time I surprised myself when I realized that I’m confident God will give me the resources I need to be content, whichever path I take, and that He will guide me when it’s the right time.

This confidence totally isn’t from me. Just ask my sister who listened to my complaints about cheese.

I think it’s safe to say that God’s holding up his end of the bargain with this whole ‘prayer=peace’ thing.

In my experience, peace and fear are major factors in contentment and discontentment. Even when I’m not making decisions about my job, I’m often plagued by fear that I’m missing opportunities. When I’m 40, will I regret not going overseas to work for a year like lots of people my age are doing? Even though I don’t want to do that, fear still hounds me that one day I’ll regret staying in Australia. My writing is another thing. Most writers are 50+ years old for a reason. Am I making a poor life decision by pursuing my novels now?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a new prayer God had given me.

“Thank-you for where I am, because it’s where You want me to be, God. And that’s more important than my own plan.”

It’s my motto for contentment. And it’s still holding true. I don’t need to worry about the ‘what-ifs’ because I’m following God. That’s all that matters.

Now I’m adding my new way of praying to that. Prayer with confidence. A conversation with God that’s still honest about my feelings, but contains faith that God hasn’t deserted me and knows what is best.

Who knows? Maybe next week I’ll walk on a puddle.

 

How about you? What’s the tone of your prayers? Have you experienced a link between faith and contentment in your own life?

Contribute to the conversation below!

 

 

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NO MINISTRY, NO CAREER, NO MAN. GREAT PLAN? PART II

 

God's been teaching me about contentment.

Photo by Tom Black, sourced from CreationSwap.com.

 

“Thank-you for where I am, because it’s where You want me to be, God. And that’s more important than my own plan.”

This is my new motto for contentment.

Even before last Tuesday happened, I’d been thinking about contentment. Whenever I had a less-than-awesome day I worried that I wasn’t living life the best that I could. Should I go work in America for a year? Move across the country to get back into journalism? And so on.

I also spent a lot of time day-dreaming about the day I become a published author or get married. It even affected my motivation for getting closer to God. There wasn’t a Christian event I went to where I wasn’t subtly scanning the audience for husband material or mentally plotting my next book. While I did want to be closer to God for God’s own sake, I also figured that the closer I got to Him, the closer I got to His purposes for me (i.e. marriage and novel-writing).

God showed me this attitude wasn’t helping my life, and gave me that prayer at the top of the page. For a few days, each time I wished I was at a different stage, or worried that I wasn’t grabbing life by the horns, I prayed that prayer. I remembered that I was exactly where God wanted me. And the day He wanted me somewhere else, He’d tell me.

Then last Tuesday happened. The rubber really hit the road. I didn’t react well.

But the prayer still stands true.

I might want a good job, a writing career or a family, but that might not be in God’s plan. And was I designed to live a pleasant life on earth, or was I designed to live in relationship with Him forever and accept His purposes over mine?

I hope that God’s plan does include a family and some form of writing. But my contentment can’t be dependent on that happening one day. God asks for my ALL my heart, ALL my soul, ALL my mind and ALL my strength. (Mk 12:30) My contentment should depend on Him alone.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not good at this. If I get tired, hot or hungry, contentment flies out the window. Yesterday I was stressed about my job, so I got mad because my housemate ate my cheese.

Yep, I got angry over cheese. And there was other cheese in the fridge, it just wasn’t the one I bought.  So I’m certainly not perfect—not even close!

And once I do get good at this contentment thing, what if my life gets easy for a while? I’m afraid I might slip back into the same bad habits when everything goes my way.

But God will be with me. I’m asking Him to remind me of what I’ve learned, to keep me accountable and to keep me moving forward. If I keep my heart open, He’ll keep the relationship developing.

And that’s what we were created for.

 

Thanks for reading! I’ve also got a guest post up today over at Ritty’s Adventures In Writing.

Here’s a peek:

Writer’s block, deadlines, falling sales, rejections, blog statistics, criticism…there’s plenty of things to freak out about in a writing career.
My recent concerns? 
I’m worried my marketing skills are inadequate and I can’t write fast enough to please myself.
A few weeks ago the self-inflicted pressure built till I resented any interruptions to my writing. But even when I was left in peace, I just couldn’t get everything done that I wanted to. It was taking me too long to achieve ‘success’. With my stress levels skyrocketing, I read this verse…
You’ll have to visit Ritty’s blog to see the rest!

Enjoy this article? Hit the ‘follow by email’ button on the right sidebar and you’ll get every post delivered straight to your inbox.

If occasional updates are more convenient, sign up for my newsletter! You’ll get an exclusive sneak peak at my novel-in-progress, All I Am. 

I Have Been Missing Out

Do you wait for joy and peace to hit you in the head?

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

I did. And I wish I hadn’t wasted years doing so.

I used to wait around for those feelings to magically appear, slogging through life until they did. When they came, I was happy. When they left, I fretted and stewed until they floated my way again. It never clicked that I could skip the stressing stage and chase after them.

Now I know that I have to ask God to help me change. I have to recognize my worries as a lack of trust in God and decide to put my faith in Him. It’s taking time, but it’s working! I wish I’d done it long ago.

Same with my relationship with God. Sometimes I’d feel really close to Him, but usually I wouldn’t. That didn’t bother me too much; I knew that emotions were fickle and not to be trusted. And it’s not like I paid no attention to God; I’ve always taken Him seriously and had a devotion time pretty much every day. But there would still be times when I coasted along, and times when I really dug in, chasing after God.

I’m lucky to now be part of a group that meets weekly, not for a routine Bible study, but to chase after God. We pray and sing and talk, and while I’ve been doing those things my whole life, there’s something special this time. We’re all meeting together because we want to seek God. We want to drive in closer to Him. We want to chase after Him. And He’s happily letting us catch Him.

Does this mean all things are easy? Most certainly not. We’ve all got stuff going on in our lives. But as I go after God more and more—with my friends and individually—I’m discovering again how I only ever really find myself in Him.

I think often people are afraid they’ll lose their individuality and become another zombie robot Christian, doing only God’s work and none of the things they’re interested in. But in reality, it’s the opposite. I’m only really finding myself, my purpose, my joy, my creativity and my individuality in God. On my own, I’m another zombie robot Millennial, busy with my family and job and hobbies. But the more I get to know God, the more I feel like there’s a whole other dimension out there that I’ve been blind to, and it’s so much more important than the things I’ve been focusing on. Wouldn’t it be sad to get to the end of your life and realise you’ve totally missed the point of it?

I’m starting to think that I need to passionately pursue God, even when I don’t feel passionate about Him. I always thought I was okay because I spent time with Him and obeyed Him. And I was okay—but I wasn’t great. Even though I was chugging along, I wasn’t chasing after more. I never prayed, “God, give me more of you.” But now I see that this Holy Relationship is like a marriage—even the happiest married couples never stop learning about each other. And the further you go, the greater the relationship is.

The leader of the group I attend often starts the meetings off by praying, “God give me more of You. I need more of You.” The first time I heard that I thought, “Huh. I don’t think I’ve said that before.” I was a bit surprised, because I’ve always considered myself quite serious about God.

As I kept coming along to the group (we’re called Project X—check out the website here) I’ve seen this example lived out in the lives of my friends. I’m seeing that I want to chase after God too. I’m not content with what I have of Him; I need more. Even though I already knew my purpose was wrapped up in God, now I’m understanding it. How can we get distracted with the world when, at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter? And yet it happens so easily.

The more I know God, the less willing I am to allow myself to get distracted. I want Him. I need Him. I want to join in His work in the world—I want to be part of the stuff that does matter.

Sometimes a new TV series will come out on DVD or I get good ideas for my book and I’ll be very distracted by the world for a few days… or weeks. But if I pray for God’s help in loving Him, He will come through. He will help me love Him. He’ll help me not get distracted, He’ll remind me to practise discipline, He’ll show me how mind-blowing He is and how meaningless everything else is.

And slowly, inch by inch, I’m transforming.

 

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James 4:8 NIV

…Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 NIV (emphasis mine)

The Dance Floor

Photo source: everstockphoto.com. Photographer: Zabara. Used under attrition license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Photo source: everstockphoto.com. Photographer: Zabara. Used under attrition license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

The dance floor in my heart helps stop the wrestling match in my head.

Huh? She’s been cooped up in her office for too long.

No, I’m not crazy. Let me explain.

For me, it is a constant effort to keep God at #1. There is a wrestling match going on in my head at all times – sometimes of WWE proportions.

I love God, but I also looooooooooooove my writing. And while I’m working to follow God and use my writing for His purposes, the devil is still trying to exploit anything I love.

The temptation comes all the time. The nature of writing means it is continually on my mind, no matter what I’m doing. I listen to novel-writing lectures while I wash the dishes. I invent plots while I drive. I think about blog posts while I do my devotions. And nearly every spare moment when I don’t have to be anywhere else (and a lot of moments when I should be somewhere else), I’m typing away at my keyboard.

Writing is hard to break into, so I need to put in these hours. But it’s so easy to get anxious. I feel like I’m not working fast enough. I want to hurry up and get published so I can start getting paid. The self-doubt creeps in and I wonder if an agent will scorn my manuscript.

I can see how easy it would be for God’s voice to fade away – especially if all I’m thinking about during my devotions is what verse to use in my next blog post. Yes, my writing is full of God. But just writing – or knowing – about Him is no good if I don’t know Him. If I’m writing an article on someone, I can read a book about them, interview their friends and look at the work they did. All good stuff. But it doesn’t replace sitting down with that person over coffee and having a chat.

My counter-measure – apart from sticky notes on my wall reminding me to trust God and be patient – is a dance floor in my mind.

It’s my version of that verse in Psalm 46:

Be still, and know that I am God.

No thoughts about writing are allowed on the dance floor. I approach, wearing my awesome lace gown. God is there, in His tux. Sometimes I’m so amazed that He’s always there, I bow to the floor before He picks me up and we start to dance. Other days, I just run and hug Him.

After a while I might start to tell Him about my book. But only if I’m talking to Him about it, not just writing it in my head. But we don’t always talk. Sometimes I just let Him hold me, and as we stand there it slowly seeps back into my brain just how much He loves me. It’s like the love is soaking through my dress, my skin, into the core of my being.

Then I feel better. That’s when I remember who I am. I am not just a writer. I may not even be a writer at all.

I am a person God loves. That’s all that matters

.

They will be called the Holy People,

the Redeemed of the LORD;

and you will be called Sought After,

the City No Longer Deserted.

Isaiah 62:12 NIV (emphasis mine)

I Don’t Trust God

I don’t trust God.

That’s the realisation I came to just over a month ago.

morguefile trust

Sure, if you had’ve asked me I certainly would have said I trusted God. But my mental agonising, internal temper tantrums and occasional whinge sessions with my sister said otherwise.

There was a very real reason behind my worry. I was at a point where my life could go one of two ways; lets call them Option A (for Awesome) and Option B (for Boring, Bad, etc).

Needless to say, I really wanted Option A. The way this panned out would affect my life in a fairly major way. But there wasn’t really anything I could do to force Option A to become reality.

So I waited. And prayed. And hoped. And day-dreamed. And stewed. And got frustrated. And worried. And grumbled.

For six months.

I said I was trusting God. And I was, to the degree that I didn’t throw my hands in the air and walk out on Him. I trusted Him enough to stay with Him.

But I didn’t trust Him enough to allow His peace to calm me down. No, instead I went through the up-and-down rollercoaster of trying to trust God for about four days, before something gave me hope that Option A really could happen. Then I focused my thoughts on that hope. Then something negative happened. Then I focused on that. And despaired. And the cycle started again.

One day I woke up and realised how ridiculous this was. And what it said about my real trust in God. I knew then that I had to decide. I either took God at His word and believed that He knew best or I didn’t.

I chose to believe.

It lasted four weeks.

After four weeks, I allowed myself to get distracted again. I took my eye off the ball – off God – and fell down again. I lost my peace. But this time, I realised something else.

Option A is never going to happen.

So now I’m living Option B, and again I have two choices. Trust God, or just watch TV for the rest of my life. (TV is my drug of choice when I’m upset.)

I’m finding that trusting God – and the peace that follows – is much better. I’ve also learned that I need to pray for help in trusting God, and remember to do it. It’s now written on a sticky note and stuck on my bedroom wall.

Moral of the story? I’m not as good at trust as I thought. But with God’s help, I can do it. And trusting God is way better than the alternative.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Texts from the Queen

Yesterday I got a text message from Queen Lizzy (you know, the one who rules England). She said, “Tell me everything ur worried about. Hand the burdens over to me. I really care about u.”

disbelieving face stockxDon’t believe that one? How about this?

“Cast all your anxiety on Him (God) because He cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7 NIV

Even more crazy, but it’s true.

Personally, I tend to either take this completely for granted, or swing wildly the other way and feel like God doesn’t care at all.

What I should do is stay in awe of the fact that God takes the time and effort to share my burdens, and hang onto Him and not let go.

It’s the level of detail that really gets me, when I bother to properly think about it. The Bible says “cast ALL your anxiety on Him”.

Not only the big things, like my career (or lack of it). Whether my book will ever be published. Whether I’m saving enough money. Whether I’m making the right decisions.

All my anxiety. Every little bit of it.

How I’ll finish my Christmas shopping. How I’ll survive work today. Stressing that there’s no garlic bread left in the freezer (don’t laugh – we take garlic bread seriously in our home).

Why does God say ‘all’? Because He’s interested in ALL of me. He wants to know me. He wants to help me with my burdens. He wants me to trust Him. It’s all about intimate relationship.

Same goes for you.

And why would He want that?

Well, that’s a terrific question. We sure don’t deserve this kind of nitty-gritty attention. That’s what makes it so mind-blowing.

So, we have the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God willing to take on our worries and… we’re still holding onto them?

I often have to peel my fingers away from whatever is stressing me out, but I’m finding that it’s worth it. Pinky finger by pinky finger.