What have you done for your community lately? I understand excuses for not getting involved when the weather is snowy or schedules during the winter months keep you from committing time aside from school, work, and other responsibilities. I do not, however, understand continual excuses all year long that prevent any of us from getting involved or taking one day to reach out to others or to participate in worthy causes.
Recent events in the news have sparked many people into action for race relations, community awareness, and advocating for both urban and suburban youth. For many of us, giving our time to our children’s schools is a “no-brainer”. Taking that a step further to mentor, coach, or provide other enrichment is an easy movement for those who are truly serious about civic responsibility. Similarly, the movement to go from signing petitions to getting involved by notifying relevant political offices is also an easy step.
If family and church are more important to you, then consider simply assisting a ministry at church or joining a new one. Maybe there is someone in your neighborhood who has had a death in the family, an illness, or a new baby and needs dinner and some conversation. These are all easy things to add into your already busy weeks. Take just a small amount of time out of your busy day to provide dinner for a family in need or visit someone that you know is sick or perhaps in a long term nursing facility. I had you all write up some “improvement” lists at the beginning of the summer, and I’d like you to check on those lists now. Have you done what you said you were going to do? Have you given any thought to the items you want to accomplish? Add this community service component in, and the world will seem like a friendlier, more faithful place.
We all have it in us. It is time to ignite that sense of responsibility to others. No excuses.
How many of us waver in our defense of our own beliefs every now and then? As we spend time with family and friends this summer, we will have many opportunities to defend and even promote our faith in God. Will we take those opportunities to praise Him when things go well or suggest His guidance when friends need our input? Will we even think, in our conscious minds, that He is the reason for all that is good in our lives? Will we turn to Him when things get rough?
These are questions that we ask ourselves throughout the year—daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Is our faith strong? Do we test ourselves in our faith? Do we understand our relationship with God? During the summer months, as we take time to enjoy life a little more with the warm weather, vacations, and more opportunities to be with friends and family, we should remember to spend time with God. Certainly, we pray and we attend church services, but do we really spend time thinking about how committed we are to God and to our faith and, ultimately, to our relationship with Him?
It never hurts to test ourselves now and then—to push our own boundaries a bit and make sure that we understand our own commitment to our faith. If we are pressed, would we defend our own beliefs? Can we describe how—to use a reference from my book—we have nailed our shoes to the floor in battle, like the soldiers during biblical times who would literally screw their shoes to the ground to face their enemy, unwavering in their stance? Can we provide testimony to the fact that we take what we hear in church each week to our daily lives? Can we promise ourselves and God that we will always defend Him and our beliefs about Him? Will we really stand up, nailed in position, at the company picnic or at a child’s school event and defend our beliefs if they are challenged?
I’m not suggesting that we get confrontational with people, nor am I suggesting that we will be challenged, but, in these quiet moments or moments of celebration when we are not expecting a challenge, that is when we need to test our faith. When we do that, we are ready for what the enemy has for us later when things are not so quiet or not so celebratory. When we test ourselves and deeply question our own faith to the point of defending it, we will be ready for whatever the enemy has in store for us now or in the distant future.
In my book, I talk quite frankly about how we need to be honest with ourselves in order to have effective relationships with others and with God. This means we need to remain vigilant regarding our prayer life, our sense of family and community, and our commitment to personal discipline—financially, professionally, and emotionally. Even if summer means “down time” to most of us, we can incorporate our daily disciplines and routines into more relaxed summer schedules.
For me and for others, workout time is key. I suggest using these times during which we run, lift weights, take an exercise class, or do other activities to reflect and give some much needed conversation with ourselves and with God. We can think about where we need some guidance in our lives and to offer those issues and concerns to God. A part of our armor against the enemy, we always keep our “belts of truth” on, therefore, we must remember to stay honest in our prayer and our interaction with God. When interacting with Him honestly, we are able to pray and think on things that we might want to let go of a bit during the more laid back summer, but, through our conversations with Him, we are able to prioritize things in life, see it all more clearly, and make sure that we do not neglect any responsibilities, initiatives, or future goals.
On a similar note, when we are honest with our families and communities, we benefit as well. I’m not suggesting that summer is going to prompt us to abandon our values and goals in life, I’m simply saying that with the more relaxed lifestyle, the temptation to leave finances unattended or to slack off a bit at work is more prevalent as is the desire to often “play” more and work less. Another summer activity that I enjoy is dining out with family or barbecuing. Just as we can multi-task and pray during our summer workouts, we can use these gathering times over meals to actually talk to our families—find out what our kids are doing or discuss vacation or other plans that involve finances and planning with our spouses. Recalibrating or touching base with our loved ones several times a week will help us focus on what is important.
If we look at summer as a time to jumpstart our faith and our personal disciplines, and if we make that jumpstart fun and part of a healthy, laid back summer lifestyle, the planning becomes pleasant and, as a result, more long-term. So take out that grill and those new recipes and plan to have some sit-down time with the family over a nice dinner. Put on those running or exercise shoes and plan to have a quiet, one on one dialogue with God over a healthy, invigorating workout. Honesty and discipline do NOT take the summer off, and making sure that our “belt of truth” is in place and ready for use in prayer and reflection is a sure way to keep our personal lives and faith active and interesting during the summer months.
As I prepare to send my only child to college, I am in reflection mode a lot this season. I feel strongly that we should all reflect and renew every now and then, and I’ve been advocating that in recent posts; however, I find that deep reflection often occurs when we don’t force it. Many times, it is the result of something that has occurred—a death in the family, a recent illness, the birth of a child, or a child heading off to school for the first time. Most of these happenings are out of our control somewhat. We can plan, in part, or prepare a little bit for the “what ifs” or the “going to happens,” but we don’t realize the gravity of the situation until it is upon us.
As I think about sending a child to college, I start to think about my own experiences in life. I also think about my own future, and, not in a selfish way, but more in a way that is in tune to what my college-age child will experience or what is in store for her in her very bright future. Many of us, when we change jobs or buy new homes, will look back on the activities and events that we’ve experienced over the years in these places. Even if they weren’t always happy occurrences or even if we associate challenging times in life with these places, they hold a place in our hearts. The job is where we spent many hours of angst and stress, but also where we made good friends and earned a respectable living. It’s where we spent hours of overtime, but also where our co-workers took us to lunch on our birthdays and where we celebrated each Christmas with friends, dancing the night away. Our house may be where we experienced family issues or personal problems, but many times, this is also where our kids were born and where they played in the yard, where we hosted many a cookout, where we answered the door when the kids were little for trick-or-treat, or where we talked to our neighbors in the side yard.
When others in our lives hit milestones, these milestones become our milestones too. When we see the progress that others make or the setbacks they endure, we think of our own, and we find ourselves reflecting on our lives. This is all part of my living strong philosophy. To know yourself and to automatically and routinely take stock of your life at certain points is definitely a show of strength. To bravely face the things you have done in life that don’t make you proud, or to do what you need to do in life to ensure the future that you want are difficult things to do. Tapping into what you have done right or what you are proud of also requires some strength. After all, it is only with intense introspection that we even know what we’ve done is truly successful or makes us deeply proud of ourselves or our accomplishments.
So, as we all take time to sit in the sun this season and think about what we’re going to do or reference those lists that I had you make previously, we need to celebrate our accomplishments and record in our memories the good times and the bad times that have shaped us. As we watch loved ones move away, change pathways in life, or even head off to college, we need to wish them well and feel that we can offer them something in the way of advice and experience. We may not have been exactly where they’re going, but we can certainly empathize and picture a future for all of us that includes continuous improvement, faith, and happiness.
In my most recent book, I discuss, at length, what wearing and living with the Armor of God entails. In my analysis, I try to communicate the fact that everyone does not understand this “armor” or know why he or she needs to be equipped with such armor in the face of everyday challenges.
Just like a boxer trains for his or her strongest opponent regardless of who the fight is scheduled with next, and just like Olympians train to beat the fastest, best, or most formidable competitor in their respective sports, so must we train and prepare for our biggest fights with whatever enemies may be waiting for us. Sure, we see some adversities coming, such as the temptation to use drugs or abuse alcohol or the temptations to quit school or stray from our families, children, or spouses to make ourselves happy first. Even in the group that I just mentioned, drug use is certainly a more visible threat than the latter, which is the idea of spiritually or emotionally drifting from loved ones. And this is what is at the core of my point; it is not always easy to spot the enemy and what the enemy has planned for us in terms of attack. Many times, it is in hindsight that we realize the mistakes we’ve made, simply because we had not educated ourselves OR armed ourselves against the initial attack.
Even more difficult to spot is the enemy that seeks to undermine our very sense of self. I talked a little about this in previous blog entries, particularly when we were suffering from news of the events in Baltimore in the shadow of the Freddy Gray funeral. I talked about how we might fall prey to people who will, ultimately, lead us completely astray during times when we feel vulnerable or are drawn to do something for the right reasons even though the action may be a deplorable one. None of us, in this world, is immune to this, friends; trust me on that. We can all fall prey to bad decisions and actions that take us down a path from which it is hard to return, despite noble attempts to do so.
Daily, when we’re at work or when we are talking with friends and neighbors over dinner or a barbeque in the backyard, we often forget that there are opportunities to share beyond the exchange of pleasantries and burgers and potato salad. There are opportunities to open up to one another as friends and share our stories of strength and triumph. I’m not talking about bragging; I’m talking about sincerely sharing the stories of struggle and emerging victorious over whatever challenged us. I’m talking about inspiring others with truth and advice on how to live as strong as possible, in your armor against the enemy, at all times.
Let’s face it, many times at work, things come up that are not pleasant. Maybe a co-worker has taken credit for someone else’s project. Maybe there are layoffs. Maybe the workload is just so great that friends and co-workers are having trouble getting it all done, are not sleeping, or are worried and upset most of the time. Maybe your neighbor discloses that he is having financial trouble. Maybe another neighbor down the street is going through a sad divorce. In these moments, and in these opportunities to counsel, listen, and to be a friend, we can also talk about what armor we use to offset the enemy when we are vulnerable or feeling down. During these times, it is imperative to acknowledge that, yes, it is OK to feel bad, but it is not OK to let those feelings dominate you, isolate you, or change who you are inside. This is the enemy’s most subtle and, often, most dangerous attack – making us feel like all is lost – that there is no hope – there are no friends to turn to.
Share your stories of faith and strength. Talk about the time you felt down and pumped yourself back up with your armor, whatever that may be. For some, the armor is relying on a healthy lifestyle full of good foods and exercise to keep the blues away. For others, daily prayer gets them through the rough patches. For others, simply interacting with friends of faith or family who notoriously support and encourage is the armor. We all have these coping skills and strength-acquiring mechanisms built into our daily routines. We have to remember to tap into them, share them, and give them the kudos they deserve – give ourselves the credit we deserve. After all, we never know when the opportunity to use these traits will present itself. It is best to be primed, trained, and waiting to use them.