A few years ago, I took a trip to Italy and got exposed to the beautiful art of mosaics. I wanted to learn how to do it and so I have taken a few classes. Little did I know that God would use the process of creating a mosaic to challenge one of my long-held beliefs that is one of the primary drivers of stress in my life. That belief is simply this:
I must always strive to do things perfectly,
or at least as perfectly as humanly possible
Yes, the pressure to try to be perfect is the driver of much of my mental and emotional angst in life.
And I am thankful that the art of creating a mosaic has challenged my unhealthy drive toward perfection!
Please let me explain a few things you need to know about creating a beautiful mosaic that will help you understand how God has challenged my wrong thinking.
In order to create a beautiful mosaic, these steps must be followed:
Step 1: Gather some imperfect materials
Go to the Goodwill and buy some old dishes that are unwanted and have been discarded. Then break them into small pieces of pottery shard so that they are completely useless from a practical point of view.
Step 2: Work doing the best you can in the time that you have
Envision a design. Then apply adhesive to the mosaic surface and place the broken shards on the adhesive according to the design, making extra cuts as necessary. Sounds easy, right? Not really. Cutting the small shards to a specific shape can be very challenging. And even when you think you have all of them glued down in the right place, you step back and take a long look and you see just a bunch of broken pieces of pottery with many irregularities and rough edges. The temptation at this stage is to try to spend hours re-cutting and rearranging the shards to get them just right. But the adhesive is drying, so there just isn’t that much time. This is the point of discouragement in mosaics. What you have created so far just doesn’t look right. But the adhesive is drying, so there just isn’t enough time to fix everything that could possibly be fixed.
Step 3: Trust the grout to do its work
Give the adhesive a good week to completely harden and then mix up the grout and spread it evenly over the shards, being very careful to press the grout into every nook and cranny. Give it a few minutes to dry. At this point, the piece looks nothing short of horrible. Then take a towel or a piece of newspaper and rub away the dried grout from the tops of the pieces of shard. The results are amazing. The grout has performed two very important functions:
Creating a mosaic is a great representation of how God’s grace is at work in the lives of those who love Him as we go about building and creating in our lives.
Because of His love for us, we are freed from the pressure to be perfect as we trust Him to take our work and bless it, making it useful for that which it was intended.
It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
Psalm 127:2 (NASB)
But he said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
As I do creative and building work in my life:
I start with imperfect materials. I have many shortcoming and weaknesses.
I often become discouraged in my work, even as I do the best I can with the time and resources I have. Even when I am trying my best, there are many irregularities and rough edges in my work. I want to keep trying to make it perfect, but there just isn’t enough time. Why can’t I seem to get it right?
I am always amazed by how when I put my trust in God, He covers my work with His grace. As I trust God with the energy and effort invested in my work, the discouragement fades and the Spirit takes over and gives me joy. The result of my work is something more beautiful and purposeful than I could have ever imagined.
It is trusting in God’s grace that sets us free
from the unhealthy drive of perfectionism
and all the mental and emotional angst that goes with it.
In doing mosaics, I’ve learned that there is grace is in the grout.
In life, I’m learning that God’s grace covers me as I diligently work despite my limitations, doing the best I can with the time and resources that I have. His grace overcomes my weaknesses and limitations to produce something useful, purposeful and maybe even beautiful. Only God can do that and only He deserves the praise and honor for anything good that my hands create.
How about you? As you create and build in your life, are you trusting in your abilities and your drive for perfection or are you trusting in God’s grace?
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We come into this world alone and we leave this world alone, but in almost every place in between on our personal timeline, we need our peeps! No, not those sugary marshmallow Easter treats! I’m talking about people – people to help us “run with perseverance the race marked out for us…without growing weary and losing heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
When my son was in high school, he was a strong runner on his cross country team. Because I watched many of his 3.5-mile races, I’ve learned a lot about what is takes to do well in an endurance race. He had a wonderful winning coach who gave each runner good instruction and encouragement. But the coach’s number one rule for running in training sessions and in races was this:
Stay with your pack!
Running with a group of other runners going at a similar pace was essential because it is unwise and potentially dangerous to try to run a race alone. Why?
Pacing - Go out too slow and you won’t be able to make up the time later in the race. Go out too fast and you will run out of energy before the end of the race. Staying with the pack helps everyone to run at a steady, sustainable and appropriate pace throughout the entire race. Runners encourage and hold each other accountable to keeping the pace.
Obstacles - Most cross country courses are in parks and so tree stumps, fallen tree branches and large rocks must be spotted and avoided. Tripping over one of these obstacles can add on unwanted time or take you out of the race completely. Runners watch out for and warn each other about obstacles.
Race Conditions – Cross country racing is done outside in the natural environment which can present difficult race conditions. Some courses have difficult terrain to navigate, such as a steep hill with a gravel path. Other races are run in unpleasant weather conditions – wind, rain or a day of blistering heat with no cloud or shade tree in sight. Running in a pack provides both a distraction and some encouragement when running in difficult race conditions.
Running a cross country race can be a grueling experience that you can see on the faces of the runners as they go by. In many ways, my son’s cross country races are not a lot different than the “race marked out for us” that sometimes also seems grueling. Many of the races we run in life are tough endurance races, as opposed to short quick sprints. Pacing is everything, overcoming obstacles is essential and navigating a difficult terrain or environment is common.
Wise King Solomon highlighted the benefits of running our race with others:
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
So, it is with good reason that we are instructed to:
…consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Is the race you are running feeling a little grueling today? If so, don’t be too surprised or too hard on yourself. But, most of all, remember that it is unwise and potentially dangerous to try to run it on your own.
Stay with your pack, partners and pals!
You are in an endurance race. You need others to help you keep your pace in check.
You will face obstacles. You need others to help you watch out for them and help you avoid them.
You are running in enemy territory that includes difficult terrain and hostile conditions. You need others to help you ignore the verbal taunts and extinguish the flaming arrows of the enemy so you can successfully finish your race.
How about you? How is your race going? To cope is to deal effectively with something difficult. My son’s cross country races were difficult. Your race may be difficult too. One very effective and wise coping strategy is to stay with your pack!
Do you need to reach out to your pack, partners and pals?
Do you need to be a pack, partner or pal to someone else who is currently struggling?
In the past few months, my husband and I have been on a house purge. We have taken the first pass at purging our home environment from unneeded or unwanted possessions. We have spent hours and hours sorting through items and taking trips to recycling centers, resale shops and the Goodwill.
I wish I could say that this is something we do on a regular basis, but I cannot. The truth is that we have not participated in an honest purge in many, many years. The house we live in now is the biggest that we have ever owned and our move into this house was both quick and chaotic, so no purge was necessary or convenient prior to moving here.
I wish I could say that we have been doing this as part of a well-defined future plan, but I cannot. To be honest, we know we want to eventually downsize, but we don’t know where exactly God is leading us.
But I can say this – this purge has had a major positive impact on my mental and emotional health! I guess I never realized how much of my mental energy has been used up in the cleaning, upkeep and storage of our possessions.
It is almost as if the now clear and open space
in our cabinets and closets has also produced
more clear and open space in my mind which results
in greater focus, greater peace and less stress.
My observation has been verified by a few interesting research studies:
Clutter and Focus – Research out of Princeton University tells us that “Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.” In other words, we tend to be more unfocused and unproductive in environments with numerous and disorganized stimuli.
Clutter and Stress – Research out of UCLA tells us that people (particularly women) who describe their home environments as “cluttered” or “messy” have higher levels of stress hormones as well as increased fatigue and depression.
After my purge of the kitchen, Bob commented “She even decluttered the refrigerator door!” And I have to admit that the sight of the clean and clear refrigerator door makes me almost breathe a sigh of relief. I only allowed a few of my favorite magnets to remain. This is not too surprising given that the UCLA researchers also found an association between the number of items on the refrigerator door and the overall amount of clutter in a household.
As Christians, we are very familiar with the Parable of the Seeds (Matthew 13: 1-23). I thought about this parable of Jesus a few times as we went through the house purge process. I particularly thought about the seed that fell among the thorns.
…“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown…” (Matt: 13:3-8, emphasis mine)
In interpreting the parable for his disciples, Jesus describes the seed that fell among the thorns by saying, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22)
In the passage of scripture, Jesus is clearly not referring to the problem of clutter. But my house purge experience has made me wonder if my clutter has sometimes choked out my ability or willingness to respond to God’s messages to me. How many times have I been unfruitful in my response to God in some area of my life because I was concerned about or distracted by my stuff?
Perhaps my thinking is a bit of a stretch or perhaps it is spot on. Either way, I can’t help but believe that the less mental energy and space that is taken up by my stuff, the more mental space and energy I will have available to be used to hear and respond to the invitations and opportunities from God and others.
How about you? Have you ever thought about decluttering as an exercise in stress management and as a spiritual discipline? Do you long to free up some mental energy and space so you can have greater focus, greater peace and greater responsiveness to God’s workings in your life? Why not start by simply decluttering your refrigerator door?
Have you ever gone through a period of time where it seemed that your good health habits were going to "hell in a hand basket" (as in rapidly deteriorating and on a course for disaster)?
I had just this experience last week and the contributing factors were that:
I wasn’t getting any exercise and I just didn’t care.
I was eating whatever unhealthy food item was in my line of sight and I just didn’t care.
I was short on sleep and I just didn’t care.
I was missing the sunshine and I just didn’t care.
When I was pretty much at the end of my rope, I had a phone conversation with my husband where I told him of my intention to go out and eat the most unhealthy, fattening, good-tasting food that I could get my hands on. And he responded with some very wise words:
“That is not a good idea and that is not who you are. This decision will not help you now and you will not feel good about it in the days to come. Get out your phone and find the nearest place where you can go get a healthy salad and go eat there instead.”
And so I did. And getting back on track with how I typically behave and what I typically value was very beneficial in helping me to decompress after a very difficult day.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Oh, how I needed someone to come alongside me and set my thinking straight. And my husband did just that.
He sharpened me by reminding me of who I am.
And that reminder helped me to regain some equilibrium by encouraging me to align my behavior with my beliefs and values, even while going through some stressful circumstances.
I think that I am not the only one who has a bit of an identity crisis during times of stress. I think we all sometimes make impulsive and unwise health-related decisions because we think those decisions will provide us with:
A quick, easy fix for our unpleasant circumstances and feelings
A deserved reward for our efforts
A source of pleasure in the midst of pain
A distraction from pain that we are powerless to alleviate
Who is the person in your life who sharpens you by reminding you of who you are, what you believe and what you value? Who is the person in your life who will love you enough to take the risk to speak the words that will help to set your thinking straight?
Have you ever given someone in your life permission to do this? I suggest you do. It really does help!
“You need to be exorcised!” Would you believe that I hear these words often and that I love it every time? Please let me explain.
Bob (my husband) and I enjoy cycling together. Almost every weekend in the spring, summer and fall, we take a fun bike ride on a trail or we bike to a restaurant to eat lunch and then bike back home. We started doing this about 15 years ago when Bob gave me a new bike for my 40th birthday because he knew I enjoyed cycling when I was a kid. For years, we took weekend family bike rides with our kids and we have continued that tradition as empty nesters.
One part of our weekly bike ride that has become a tradition is that, at some point, Bob will pick up his speed, whiz past me and yell the words “You need to be exorcised!”
Translation: Pick up the speed or get left behind! I accept that challenge and we ride the next few miles at a leg burning and heart pounding pace.
“You need to be exorcised!” It’s a fun play on words. I need to not just be exercised, but exorcised. The word exorcise is typically used when we talk about spiritual warfare as the act of attempting to drive out (a supposed evil spirit) from a person or place.*. Spiritual warfare is serious. Bob’s play on words is funny. But the two come together for a very important purpose – to utilize exercise to help me fight my spiritual battles. Yes, you heard that right! Exercise is one of my battle strategies in spiritual warfare. In fact, I am amazed at how victorious I can be when I am working out regularly (1 Corinthians 10:13).
You see, I have some demons (1 Peter 5:8-9) – demons that tempt me to do things like:
Why do I need to be “exorcised?” Consider that the synonyms for the word “exorcise” are: drive out, cast out, expel.*
Exercise helps to drive out, cast out and expel my negative emotions so that I can think clearly enough to deal with my problematic circumstances in a God-honoring way!
Perhaps the best way to explain this is to give an example. I remember one day during our early years of marriage, Bob did something that upset me. I was waiting for him to come home so that I could, in my anger, tell him all about it. At that moment, my focus was on wanting to vent my emotions rather than to honor God and my marriage relationship. Good thing for Bob that he was running late that day and so I decided to go to my aerobics class and vent my emotions when I got back. A funny thing happened at my aerobics class. I had a great workout and I walked out of that workout in a completely different emotional state than when I arrived. What happened? That good workout drove out, cast out and expelled my intense emotions. I then went home and had a good discussion with Bob about the problematic issue. I said what I needed to say in a way the honored God and my husband and we discussed a resolution to the problem. Now that’s what I call a victory in spiritual warfare!
So, how about you? Could exercise help you to effectively fight some of your spiritual battles? Could a good workout help to drive out, cast out and expel some of your negative emotions that sometimes drive ungodly behavior? I don’t know about you, but I freely admit it. I need to be exorcised on a regular basis!.
*Source: Oxford Dictionary
I love the great outdoors. I think I got this trait from my father who was happiest when he was outside interacting with nature in some way, shape or form. I believe that, for him, the outdoors provided a safe and comforting place in a world of hard work and painful circumstances. In fact, one of my greatest regrets during my dad’s terminal illness was that, because of a brutally cold Indiana winter, I was unable to take him out to enjoy the great outdoors one last time.
Have you ever considered that one of God’s provisions for your health, wellness and healing lies in the perspective that can only come when you are surrounded by God’s natural creation? There is an emerging body of scientific evidence that points to the idea that taking time to enjoy nature has a significant impact on our health and well being.
In the physical realm, being in nature is associated with reduced blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and production of stress hormones. Nature also helps us to deal with pain because as we are engrossed in the beauty of nature, we are distracted from our pain and discomfort.
Time in nature helps to improve our mental state by helping us to be more calm and balanced. Nature provides a respite from our racing thoughts and promotes a positive mood and psychological well being.
From a spiritual perspective, nature reminds us that God is still here and in control, that He still loves us and that He is still worthy of our trust. He shows that He is faithful to be who He says He is each and every day as we watch a sunrise, catch a wave to body surf as the tide rolls in, lean up against an oak tree giving up its leaves, or watch the rain storm from the dry side of the window.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made… (Romans 1:20)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
But when it comes to experiencing nature in everyday life, sometimes we just have to take what we can get. Once upon a time, I had job in a cubicle. Almost every day, I stared straight into a tan cloth pseudo wall. When I did manage to get a few minutes outside, I was walking on a paved parking lot in an industrial park. The nature that surrounded me was the sky above me, the sun that warmed me and the weeds that grew up between the cracks in the parking lot pavement. It wasn’t the forest, but it was better than nothing. But even that was enough to bring about a change of perspective.
I have found that God, in His goodness, will often bring nature to us within the context of our daily life, if we will pay attention. I am working in the kitchen and a hummingbird comes to the window. I am driving and I spot a deer at the side of the road. I am walking in the neighborhood and see the biggest, reddest flower ever. In fact, in the past few weeks, as I was going about my very daily, ordinary life, God surprised me with some beautiful perspective changing scenes:
And I remembered that He is still here and in control. He still loves me. He is still worthy of my trust. And His ability to create beauty in my average, ordinary day is beyond comprehension. This change in perspective made my mind calm down, my body slow down and my spirit smile.
Do you want an easy way to become healthier in your body, mind and spirit? God has a provision for that and it is all around you - literally. All you have to do is look for it. And when you see it, it will change your perspective and give you a reason to worship even on the most mundane or difficult day.
"Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise"
(Rich Mullins, The Color Green - A Liturgy, a Legacy & a Ragamuffin Band, Reunion Records 1993)
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About the author:
Hello! My name is Ginger Hill and I am a Christ follower and a wellness professional. Over the years, I have personally and professionally seen the benefits of healthy living and I have also seen the hardships of struggling to practice good health habits in the midst of a busy and sometimes stressful life. I am passionate about helping myself and others to live a healthy lifestyle and I believe that good health is essential in helping us to do the good works that God has called us to do. Because I am a work in progress, I write these blog posts to encourage myself and I share them with others in the hope that they may be encouraged as well.
Psalm 92:12,14 (NLT)
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