Caring for Yourself #3: Being Fully Present
Valley Church exists to help people love God, love life and love people. As we walk with God, and find ways to have a positive impact on people around us, we don’t want that middle part to be forgotten - that He created you to LOVE LIFE!
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Our series on caring for yourself has explored ways that we can keep our mental health well balanced by having tools that we use to keep us on track. Sometimes as we seek to take care of our responsibilities and make a positive difference in the world, we can forget to make sure we are doing things that keep our own mind and emotions strong.
One of the biggest struggles we can face is keeping ourselves centred in what is happening in our lives right now. It is easy to fall into one (or all three) of these traps:
Focusing on the past
Whether it’s being too attached to a previous chapter of our lives where everything seemed to be going well, or continually thinking about things we regret and wish we would change, using a lot of emotional energy on things we cannot change can be exhausting. Idolising previous seasons in our lives means we fail to see the wonder of what we have now. Feeling angry about the decisions we made in the past, or things that were done to us by other people mean we are lengthening the consequences of those things by allowing them to still have a hold on us for a long time afterwards. We are paralysing our present selves because we have no power to change the past.
Worrying about the future
There are an endless number of different things that could happen in our future relationally, financially and circumstantially. Any of them are possibilities but very few of them will actually occur. When we allow ourselves to run these scenarios like movies in our minds, we waste opportunities to focus on the here and now. Like focusing on the past, it is another way of making ourselves powerless - ruminating on things we ultimately have no control over and that we can’t change. It robs us of potential joy in the current moment because we are waiting for something to go wrong in the next moment.
Looking at what everyone else is doing
We have more access now to other people’s daily lives than ever before, with limitless options of stories to read, social media accounts to follow, etc. It’s great to be inspired by other people but we can easily become obsessed with how other people are living their lives instead of what is happening in our own. When we do this, we get caught in the habits of comparison, judgement and pressure to continually be changing our own lives to be more like someone else. Fear of missing out means we are rarely content for what we already have, and have an underlying anxiety that who we are and what we do is never quite enough.
In a world where so many messages about who we should be and how we should live are being screamed at us, we can be easily overwhelmed without realising it. Living fully in the present means focusing on what we can do right now, and here are the next set of tools that can help us learn how to do that:
Our Father God knows the power that the past can have over us. He knew it would consume each of us unless there was a way to deal with it. When He offers us the free gift of forgiveness, He gives us the power to restart our lives from that moment on. When we give our whole selves over to God, in exchange we receive new life. This means God is in charge of us now, not our past hurts or our contrary nature that keeps sabotaging our good intentions. He sets us free from the sins we’ve done and the sins that have been done to us.
Sometimes we forget to live as if this were true and we choose not to use the gift we’ve been given. But taking the time to pray about the areas we feel stuck in, and choosing to apply the gift of forgiveness to ourselves and to others, releases us from every other pressure that is weighing us down.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5v17
If we weigh up the amount of time and energy we can easily spend worrying about our future, how much more effective would those resources be if we targeted them towards planning and praying instead?
Many of us have dreams that we would like to see happen in our lives but often we don’t make a plan to pursue them. If we truly believe that God can transform us, and we search out and hold onto the promises He gives us in His Word, we can use our imaginations to begin aiming for the fulfilment of these good things. If we know that peace is a gift from God, we should live as though it is possible to find it. If we are gifted in a certain area and want to know if God wants us to build a career or a ministry that uses that talent, it is important to pursue this idea.
If you know that consistency is difficult for you, create a vision board or statements that you can see every day to remind you to stay on track. If you want to be healthier, or kinder, stronger, or less fearful, find statements or pictures that describe what that would look like in your future. If you have a talent or project you want to see developed, decide what needs to happen to fulfil this, and create habits that will bring this transformation over time. With focus, discipline and a relationship with God that keeps Him central, what we do today can make us excited about our future.
Mindfulness is a word that describes the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
It can be tricky to live like this if we are used to flitting from one thought to another and not giving ourselves the opportunity to just soak up the moment we are actually in. Usually we need something that will help us do this - an action or a space where we feel anchored instead of being pulled in different directions. We will explore this more fully in another post, but creative activities like drawing, writing, colouring, baking, building models and painting, are all ways of creating space for us to just be. We feel most grounded when several of our senses are drawn together on to one thing. Being outside in nature means your eyes, ears, smell & touch are all being stimulated to what is right in front of you. Creating a space for worship where you can hear music, and use your voice and body posture to centre in on God is another way of helping yourself to be fully present with Him.
If we can create moments of mindfulness every day - even at several key points in our day - we will find it has a knock on effect in other areas of our lives. We will feel less hurried and anxious and distracted.
For more help, we recommend:
Reading: Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren is a real encouragement to focus on why we are here and how to live each day to the full
Listening: Dare To Be podcast by Natalie Grant & Charlotte Gambill
Declaring: Jeremiah 29v11-13; Lamentations 3v22-23; Acts 2v28
These verses remind us of the incredible path God has for us, and how every day has new blessings for us.