Eight Decisions to Make This Day the Best

As the days warm up in Southern Nevada, I have once again started up one of my favorite pastimes of retreating to the patio in the early morning hours to read some truly great books. I recently read a wonderful book by Andy Andrews entitled The Seven Decisions. The author challenges his readers to change their mindset in order to seize each day and make it great. As I was reflecting on his words I began to wonder, what are the daily decisions that I believe are important for living a great day, week, month, year and life. I came up with eight “change your day” decisions. (Not because I am trying to one-up Mr. Andrews’ seven decisions 🙂 )

My work as a Marriage and Family Therapist puts me in contact with people daily who have lost their sense of purpose, hope and direction in life. These eight decisions are some of the important health-giving thoughts that I am often discussing with clients who come to my office with a desire to see life from a biblical perspective as they try to change their life and relationships.

Each day I do my very best to live-out these eight decisions in my life. They are a part of how I renew my mind as I face a new day and a new opportunity.

EIGHT DECISIONS TO MAKE THIS DAY THE BEST

Love: Today I will love God with all my heart, mind soul and strength and I will generously share God’s love with my family and all others God brings into my life.

Joy: Today I will joyfully and thankfully live fully present in God’s creation.

Faith: Today I will be aware of God’s active presence in my life and I will trust that as I do my best work He will bring the results He desires.

Creativity: Today I will creatively use the gifts and resources God has entrusted to me to do the work that He has called me to do.

Courage: Today I will live courageously. I will not allow worry about tomorrow, regret, fear, anxiety, or the opinions, and criticisms of others sway me from my calling.

Action: Today I will be a person of persistent action. I will not allow laziness, distractions, comfort or procrastination keep me from my day’s most important priorities.

Grace: Today I will seek God’s forgiveness and freely forgive others. I choose to live my life free from grudges and resentment. I will share the grace God has given me.

Growth: Today I will seek wisdom and growth. I desire to grow in wisdom, skills and abilities by earnestly seeking God, His word, wise mentors, and great books.

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Is Happiness a Worthy Goal for Your Life?

I have been planning to launch a therapy group for my clients and others who struggle with depression. Over 23 million Americans suffer from depression at any given time, and the World Health Organization has described depression as a growing epidemic. I believe depression is still one of the more misunderstood health problems of our day. These misunderstandings can lead people who suffer from depression to pull away from helpful connections and support which, in turn leads to increased suffering, isolation, and loneliness and tragically keeps them from seeking the help they need. This is so heartbreaking because there is great help for depression and those who are willing to seek help (especially those who take an active role in their treatment) are likely to see significant improvement in their symptoms.

To prepare for this therapy group, I have been doing some additional reading and research on the most effective treatment options for depression. Some of this reading has led me to interesting research on the habits, thoughts, goals, and activities that have been empirically proven to boost our level of happiness. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through this thought provoking research and I believe much of it will be very helpful in the context of a structured therapy group for depression. Two of the better books I would recommend are “The How of Happiness” by professor and researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky and “Real Happiness” by clinical psychologist Jonah Paquette.

The reading and research I have been doing (especially the empirical research on increasing happiness) led me to the question that is the title of this blog: Is happiness a worthy goal for your life? As a Christian therapist who holds to a biblical worldview, I attempt to view all of life through the lens of God’s truth (as revealed in His Word and in His creation). As I look at life through this lens, I think the short answer to this question is NO. I do not think God’s overall goal for our life is for us to be happy. His overall goal for our life is simply to love and glorify Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to share His love with others in ever increasing measure.

Does this mean God is against happiness or He does not want us to be happy? Again, the short answer to this question is NO. God created us with the capacity to enjoy happiness. The bible tells us Jesus came to give us a full and abundant life, (John10:10) God desires us to be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16) and God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17) And while we are certain to experience our share of heartbreak, pain, and loss, God also promises He will see us through the difficulties, help us to grow through the tough times and ultimately bring some level of good to us through the process. Overall, I think God wants us to experience something even deeper and more meaningful than happiness, but happiness is certainly a part of that experience.

As I pondered this question about happiness during my quiet time this morning it led me to this conclusion: “Happiness makes a poor goal for a life, but it is a wonderful God-designed and God-desired byproduct of becoming who God created you to be and living the life God designed you to live.”

 

 

COMING NEXT: Watch for part 2 of this blog. See how the current research about happiness lines up with God’s principles for a full and joyful life described in God’s word over two thousand years ago.

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Journey

“Know this; when Jesus invites us on an adventure, He shapes who we become with what happens along the way.”

Bob Goff           Love Does p30

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New Years Resolutions?

The beginning of a new year causes many of us to think about making new years resolutions. Going beyond the typical ideas about creating a resolution for the new year … here are some thoughts about how I approach creating goals in my own life.

I have a guiding principle for my life regarding personal goal setting. The principle is simple; God’s will and desire for my life trumps all of the goals I will ever develop… ever. My life, and therefore my goals belong to Him. I put all of my goals into His hands to open or close doors as He sees fit. I fully trust that God’s plan is far more wonderful, creative, imaginative and life giving than I could ever create on my own. Indeed, my overarching goal and desire in life is become more and more like the person that God created me to be and do more and more of what He created me to do. This is the path to a joy-filled life and the means by which, I best glorify my Creator.

This however, does not mean that goal setting is unimportant. It simply means that my goals must always be subject to and secondary to God’s will and direction. Setting goals does not mean that I am trying to create my own path or direction but that I am trying to discover and search-out God’s best for me. Some of the benefits of goal setting for me are:

  1. Goals help me seek after God’s will. They help me to prayerfully and submissively discern how God is leading.
  2. As I follow God, He will form the desires of my heart and therefore the goals of my life.
  3. He is a good and loving Heavenly Father who delights in giving His children good gifts – it is my pleasure and joy to come to Him to ask for the very goals and desires that He is growing in my heart.
  4. Apart from goals, I tend to get distracted, lazy and out of focus. Goals help me to be a good steward of my life.
  5. My goals span two worlds. The world I live in and the world that is yet to come. One day I will stand before my heavenly Father to give an account of my life.
  6. My goals exist to serve God and He will never be a servant to my goals. In other words, I am not trying to put together my own plan for Him to bless but to seek out His plan and try to live it fully.

 

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Perspective

Quote of the week:

“Earths crammed with heaven
and every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees takes off his shoes
the rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning        Aura Leigh 7

 

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Getting Your Marriage Unstuck

GETTING YOUR MARRIAGE UN-STUCK

Two things you should avoid and three things you should do when you find yourself feeling unhappy in your marriage.

Most every marriage gets to the point of being stuck, when the friendship is waning and we are just not feeling the deep connection we used to enjoy. It is a sinking feeling and sadly we can begin to feel lonely in our own marriage. Most of us have been there. It is dark, it can feel heavy, and there is a sense of ‘buyer’s remorse’ as we find ourselves unhappy and unfulfilled.

Of course, the beginning always looks different. New love usually starts with a bang. A whole host of wonderful feel good chemicals rush our brain and we come to believe deep down we have met the man or woman of our dreams. Love is in the air, music sounds sweeter, the sun shines brighter, food is tastier and we do crazy things like staying up until 2:00 AM talking about our relational bliss. Everything just clicks without a whole lot of effort, we are in the zone and nothing could cause us to doubt our love.

But sustaining love is a longer journey, it requires greater effort, it demands something more of us. But it also has greater reward … and it makes for a far better and more meaningful life story.

When a marriage relationship has been progressively spiraling towards unhappiness most people make the very natural but hurtful choice to focus on themselves. It all turns towards self-preservation. “What about me? Why can’t you be there for me the way I need you to be? Why can’t you meet my needs?” We start to think and behave differently when we feel disconnected and unloved. We become more self-centered. We naturally turn inward and our response speeds up the spiral in a direction that is hurtful to our marriage. Working with hundreds of couples in my office I usually see one of two harmful patterns emerge when this spiral begins and spouses move to a self protection mode. Each response does the exact opposite of what the husband or wife truly desires… the enjoyment of a close, connected and loving marriage.

TWO HARMFUL CHOICES:

  1. Payback. You are being a jerk to me so I will return the favor. In poker terms it is like saying, “I will see your miserable behavior and raise you ten more.” It is returning every negative with an even greater negative. This response seems justified, it seems fair – “after all, they started it.”
  2. Withdrawal. “You are being a horrible spouse so I am through with you.” We pull back, create distance, build walls, get quiet, we close ourselves off emotionally and physically. All alone, our thinking grows more and more negative. “Just try to be close to me and see what you get.” This response seems very natural, “why would I want to be open or close with someone who is treating me so poorly?”

THREE COURAGEOUS CHOICES:

I will often tell couples in my office; the easiest thing to do is to simply continue what you are doing … continue repaying negative with negative and hurtful words with hurtful words. You can continue the pattern of payback and withdrawal until your marriage comes to an end, but the better choice is to act with courage. It will always create a better marriage, a better life and a better story. Here are three better and more courageous choices:

  1. Obedience. Base all of your responses and behavior on your desire to please God and follow his call and instructions for your life rather than simply responding to the behavior of your spouse. Essentially, be proactive rather than reactionary. This takes courage, “what if my spouse takes advantage of my kindness?  What if I am treated unfairly?” There are certainly risks, but most of the time your proactive and loving behavior is the best way to stop the downward negative cycles that can occur in your marriage. It is hard (though not impossible) for your husband or wife to respond negatively to your consistently loving behavior. The bigger risk is to respond in a negative and reactionary way that is certain to increase the hurtful cycle and the distance in your marriage.
  2. Goodness. The Bible tells us “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) It almost sounds like a cliché to say that goodness will overcome evil or that good will prevail, but I cannot tell you how many times I have seen amazing marital transformations in my counseling office when a husband or wife courageously decides to do what is right or loving regardless of the negative direction that the marriage is sliding. It is a game changer. It can reverse a negative trend and move your marriage towards forgiveness and healing.
  3. Repair. You are bound to get hurt in your marriage. You and your spouse live in a fallen world and you will both do things that are sinful, selfish and hurtful. I am not saying that you should ignore such things or just sweep them under the rug. But rather than withdraw or react negatively the most helpful and courageous thing you can do for your marriage is to genuinely and honestly seek to repair the problem with your spouse. It can be helpful to develop a repair ritual such as offering your spouse his or her favorite beverage with an invitation to talk or asking your spouse to go on a walk. Any activity that signals to your spouse that you would like to repair things with them can work. Do your very best to do what Paul wrote in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you live at peace with everyone.”

Two questions:

  1. When you are upset in your marriage is your most common response to seek payback or to withdraw?
  2. What is your spouse’s most common response?

Two activities:

  1. Discuss the three courageous choices with your spouse and examine together what cycles usually emerge when you are upset as a couple.
  2. Talk with your spouse about creating a repair ritual that either of you can initiate if you are hurt or upset.
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