Five minutes can change your life for the better; I pray that these are those moments as you read. Is today the best day of your life? Why not? What if I told you that you could be content, hope filled and joyful regardless of your circumstances? It’s actually true.
Today is one of the best days of my life. Today is a joyful, hope filled day. It is not because the dreams I have are coming true; they are still distant. I see the echo of their promise on the horizon. It is not because the pain of life has diminished; it’s actually pretty intense at times. It is not because I’ve won the lottery; I’m still considering positions, seeking interviews, etc. Makes no sense so far, does it?
Today is amazing. Several difficult things came to face me, and I acted…not reacted…in grace. I chose to think through my actions and act with incredible gratefulness. You can simply step out the door to feel the warmth of the sun on your face; smell the scent of incense from prayer and meditation; listen to the early morning birds; watch the wild rabbit outside of my office window.
Life is beautiful all around me, and I am an a posture of gratefulness. I am incredibly grateful. This isn’t by chance, but by choice. I’ve sat here on my office couch, listing all the things that I am so grateful for. I am grateful to be loved, and to love in return. I am grateful for my home, my children. I am so grateful for the faith that sustains me while I’m waiting on God for the “next” phase of my life to begin. Grateful is a verb, a choice I make moment by moment. In it, there is love…and I give that liberally to everyone that I meet.
Let me help you understand how you can be filled with joy, even in times of pain and indecision. A long time ago, a man named Paul penned the letter to the church at Philippi and in that correspondence, he said lots of memorable things. From his place in prison he thanked people who cared enough to give into his life. He mentions that it had been some time since he’d heard from them; he felt as though they’d forgotten him. In that time of personal pain, before the blessing and during the incarceration, Paul learned something that my life coach works with me on every week. Here it is:
Life Principal: Your choices determine your happiness. If you repeat self defeating behaviors, live in the margins of “surviving” and never fully come to life, you’re going to lose your life to time and angst. Paul said “abased or abound, in want or in plenty, I have found contentment.” What does that mean?
I have a pattern, which is a psychological set of circumstances, that I subconsciously put into action when there is a perceived lack or need in my emotional make up. The perceived need causes me to react to the stimuli that represent “lack.” My particular pattern is to withdraw and brood, feelings aching. How would Paul’s letter to his friends the Philippians be different if he reacted in bitterness. The message of thanks and rejoicing in Christ would have been really changed if he’d said “thanks for the gift, I am glad that one of you finally bothered to come to my aid after all I’ve done for you.” Instead, he learned to see beyond the circumstance of pain and simply wait in peace until he could affect positive change. In fact, by the time the letter was written, Paul had bloomed where he was planted. Could your “bad circumstance” be your finest hour in disguise? It’s all in what you make of it.
In my pattern responding to need, a different trigger may be released if you add “threatened” in addition to lack. You know, the concept of being a homeless waif for the rest of all time is a real fear of many kids who come from real financially challenged backgrounds. In this scenario my reaction runs to anger instead. Each person has a set of patterns, habitual ways that they react to stimuli. How are those serving you? Some of them that I have worked with:
Fear of failure: pushing harder and further to prove to myself and others that I have self worth. It is often negative attention, and comes across as arrogant or demanding.
Fear of loneliness: becoming clingy or needy to inappropriate people in lieu of being able to have normal, healthy conversation with the man that I love. This fear, strangely, causes people to form new, unhealthy attachments and friends, to act out with substance abuse.
Unresolved family of origin issues: many long term marriages that end in late life divorce were the result of unresolved FOO issues. The safety of the initial commitment resolves the issue; eventually, the issue re-manifests into the new core family. The thing that you are most afraid of becoming, (e.g. your mother) is exactly where you head in your effort to avoid.
Emotional betrayal or personal pain: comfort eating or starvation.
Perceptions of Loss: substance abuse (the several glasses of wine that don’t serve us well.
So each of these situations have “anchors” attached to them. I will use a hypothetical situation to illustrate. I am in love with one man, always have been. I plan a special event or evening, find myself feeling anxious over the details that I want to please him with; I make myself nuts trying to be perfect. Perfect dress and hair, exuding the love that I bear for him, lotion and perfumed, sparkling in all I can be. The house is beautiful and clean, smells of bergamont and dragons blood flower, and all that is lacking is the man. Here is an anchor: If I work hard enough, I will gain his acceptance and his love. Anchor 2: good is not enough, must be exceptional. FOO Issue: broken bonding patterns in early life taught that performance is love. Trigger: it must be noticed. he’s got to be blown away. how hard would it be to live with this type of performance relationship?
The man, on the other hand, is in a strange and stressful place emotionally. His life isn’t where he wants it to be, he feels pressure at work and he’s only half listening as I describe the perfect date night. He feels tired and frustrated much of the time, but doesn’t want to talk about it. He feels trapped by his life choices, the economy, his employers expectations, etc. Anchor 1: he’s repressing his frustration and internalizing his angst. On the phone, he’s feeling pressured by the concept of dinner because of my intensity and overjoy at something simple. Anchor 2: being pressed to enjoy something in his present state causes resentment. FOO issue: in his growing years, he was often left behind, achieved less than he could and was pressured by teachers and family (mother) to be something more. His self concept is mixed with poor self esteem, despite several major improvements in his personal and professional life.
These two people are in danger of setting into motion patterns of behavior. When she feels let down by his lack of attention, she reacts by clinging or becoming demanding. He responds by escalating the conflict acknowledging the pressure in the way that he best understands; he clams up, but is internally angry. She pushes, then retreats into isolation. Communication is lost, as well as the opportunity for a great time together.
How do we change this? The anchor that I am working on is the first in our example: disappointment. I want to be like Paul, and keep my peace and joy no matter the situation. So today, when I faced a deep disappointment, I also had to consider the blessing of it; the ability to have a day filled with joy and peace no matter what happens. That was the choice: I could see my best laid plans going awry, the sequence that I wanted to happen tracking to a different outcome. So the pattern began. I stopped in my moment of panic/pain and recognized that I was reacting to a trigger. I was using this pattern to self defeat. I knew what I wanted; to be a blessing. The plans were really not all that important. By going with the flow and knowing that grace was mine to have and give, I interrupted the pattern of loss/reaction. I acted in grace and worked out my emotions positively.
The same techniques are used in weight loss/food addiction therapy. When faced with an emotion that typically results in binge eating or starvation, ask yourself what else the emotion could mean? How can you reinterpret what your feeling in a positive frame? How does this action fulfill or not fulfill your internal needs? How does it conflict or resonate with your outer voice?
Thought: A reaction in emotion is almost always going to be met with an escalation in emotion from the other party.
In our example, the man has an anchor that reads “pressure = reactive withdrawal.” When he feels the pressure, he could interrupt the patten by asking “what else could this mean?” In this case, the woman that he loves is seeking to give to him, and desires his attention. Maybe instead of withdrawing, he could interrupt the pattern and create a new anchor of breathing deeply when his frustration begins to mount. This new anchor of breathing deeply give his mind time to pause and reflect. He can see that the woman isn’t necessarily exerting pressure to preform; she is asking for love. Training himself to act in love instead of reacting in emotion would deeply impact the relationship on many levels.
So in the five minutes this is what we’ve learned. Ask yourself when confronted by a negative feeling or a reaction “What else could this mean?” Re-contextualize your feelings, change your state. Be incredibly grateful for the emotions that you have, the life all around you, the love that is in your life. Then, instead of reacting in anger, habit or fear take a real deep breath and wait a moment. Speak from grace, and lead with caring. Perhaps this is the most amazing day of your life as well, and you just hadn’t awakened to it yet.