Caring for Yourself #5: The Power of Positivity
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!
Welcome to the final post in our series on Caring for Yourself. We want to make sure that in the busyness of life you stay in touch with your own needs and find ways to be the best version of yourself. While each of these posts can only skim the surface of these topics, it may be that God can use them to prompt you to find out more about these tools and how to equip yourself with them.
You can find all the other posts in this series here:
Back in the first post, Tool #2 was about identifying your thoughts, and it’s a really important starting point for helping us move forward. If we don’t know what’s causing the feelings of stress in our body, then we cannot deal with the root. Every emotion begins with a thought, and good mental health requires giving ourselves time to identify what those thoughts are and realise how they are affecting us.
Ecclesiastes 3v1-8 reminds us that there are appropriate times for many different feelings and actions in our lives. The life Jesus lived demonstrated a full range of emotions and reactions, and gives us a great example to follow in doing the same. As we saw in week one, suppressing thoughts and the feelings that come with them doesn’t make them go away - it can actually push them further into our bodies where they manifest in various different ways. But once we have named the thought and allowed ourselves to feel the impact of it, we then have the choice of what we do with it next.
Here’s the question we need to ask ourselves: “Is this thought working for me?”
Here’s an example: if we realise we are waking up every day with thoughts of how busy we are, how little time we have, and what could go wrong, we will immediately experience stress, fear and resistance to anything extra that comes our way on that day. But we are not obligated to think like that - we could choose to face our day with a different set of thoughts, such as, “I have a full and rich life with lots of things going on. I get to interact with so many people today, which gives me purpose and lots of opportunities to influence them in a positive way.” The first mindset will automatically make our body tense up, and the second will give us a burst of endorphins to prepare us for the challenge we just set ourselves. The first mindset means we will be wary of, and react impatiently to, interruptions; the second mindset will see each unexpected change as another opportunity to connect with and bless somebody.
Our thoughts should not deny the reality of our circumstances, but they can certainly change our reactions to them.
Our minds are really powerful engines that steer us where they are programmed to go. The trouble is that over time, our experiences can program them in all sorts of directions before we’ve realised it - from self-protection, to competitiveness, to apathy. When it comes to undoing these perspectives, it is too much to expect that we can jump the huge chasm required from one mindset to an opposite mindset all at once. Like a physical muscle, thought patterns need to be trained over time to get stronger and serve us better. So making the change from, “I can’t do this,” to “I am awesome at this!” is too big a leap - our smart brains will not believe that, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary. But we can tweak our thoughts in the right direction, away from the self-fulfilling negativity that paralyses our efforts, towards new possibilities that will direct us to where we really want to go.
Here are some examples of how we can take steps towards a new mindset:
“I don’t fit in here. I’m an outsider.”
“I wonder if anyone else here feels the same way that I do?”
“I remember another time when I felt like this in the past, but then things did change for me - maybe the same will happen here.”
“I’m going to promise myself today to stick around for an extra ten minutes and speak to at least one person.”
“I’m going to find someone else who looks like they might be struggling to connect and reach out to them.”
“I wonder if I could offer to help out where there seems to be a need and see what happens.”
“I’m glad that my feelings of loneliness have given me an insight into how other people feel.”
“I feel like a valued member of this community and am passionate about finding ways to help others feel included too.”
“My garden is too big and overgrown. I’m completely overwhelmed by it.”
“I wish I knew more about how to handle it.”
“I wonder how other people manage to do it?”
“I’d like my outside space to be a place where I feel relaxed.”
“I can’t do all of it but I’m going to pick one area and clear it so I can still use my garden when it’s a nice day.”
“I can feel myself getting stronger the more gardening I do - my muscles aren’t hurting anymore.”
“I like having an excuse to have some thinking time and interact with nature - even the weeds!”
“I’d like to do more - I’m going to invite a friend over who knows more than me about gardening.”
“I’ve worked out how to simplify my outside space so I can manage the maintenance of it, and I quite enjoy it now!”
Notice how some of the early steps include curiosity. When we declare to ourselves that something is impossible and can’t get any better, we shut the door to anything happening. But if we begin to ask questions about how others before us have tackled the same thing, and allow ourselves to begin imagining new possibilities, we can take tentative steps towards progress.
There is a reason that walking with God is called faith. It often involves believing in possibilities before we’ve seen the evidence of them. As humans, it can feel easier to hide behind a mindset of self-protection that guards our hearts from disappointment. If we don’t try, we can’t fail; if we don’t trust people, we can’t be hurt by them; if we keep our expectations low, we’re less likely to be surprised when things don’t work out; etc.
But this perspective puts limitations on what we believe God can do in us and through us. We are told that He chose us before the creation of the world to do good works - things He has equipped us and prepared us for (Ephesians 1v4 & 2v10). If we are focusing on holding ourselves back from things that are difficult, we will also miss the incredible ways God wants to bless us, and to use us to bless other people.
If we can train our thoughts to focus on God and what He has said about us, instead of the many possibilities that may go wrong, we will find the boldness to move forward and the depth of relationship with Him that is greater than any potential disappointment we might face.
In order to set our minds on Him, we must speak out the truth He has given us. The words we speak are actually greater than the thoughts we think, so speaking them out loud is a really important part of this process. And because our human minds are forgetful and easily distracted, we need to be deliberate in finding ways to keep us focused on these truths. Writing out some of the many promises in the Bible and having them where we can see them and repeat them regularly to ourselves is a very practical and powerful way of doing this.
Another way is singing praise songs - these are statements about who God is, and our commitment to Him. Many victories can be won when we declare His goodness and authority over situations that we haven’t yet seen the outcome of.
If we believe that God is in authority over every situation, then it means everything we go through can be used for His purposes. When we apply faith to our situations, we often have a specific idea in mind of what that is going to look like, but sometimes we can be surprised by the turning of events. Our faith is not in prayers that are answered in the way we want them - our faith is in the One we are praying to.
So when we face major disruption, like we all have this year, we do not need to lose hope or to think that our time is being wasted while we wait for things to get ‘back on track’. God is able to use EVERY circumstance to shape us and prepare us for His purposes. While we are impatiently anticipating the next chapter, God is busy using the current one just as effectively. We see this powerfully in the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50, where each time he chose to do the right thing, he seemed to get further away from the destiny he had dreamed about. But eventually we realise that all those events were necessary to position him in the right place at the right time to bring hope and deliverance to entire nations (Genesis 50v20).
If we can believe, declare and make decisions as though God is using us right now to live a life of purpose, in time we will see the evidence of it. It may be that God is using this year to help you understand the most important things in your life, or to walk at a different pace, or to understand life through someone else’s perspective. Every day is an opportunity to know Him more, and to extend hope and grace to the people around us.
For more help, we recommend:
Reading: Life Interrupted: Navigating the Unexpected by Priscilla Shirer
Singing out: praise music in your home or car. While we cannot sing out loud at church, it’s really important that we practice this in other areas, as speaking or singing truths out loud has much greater power than just thinking them.
Declaring: Romans 8v28; Ephesians 2v10; Colossians 1v16-17
These verses are just a tiny example of truths that speak about God’s authority in every circumstance, and of the calling He has placed on our lives.