"It just cannot be!” This is my reaction to the reality that this week is Thanksgiving. It seems like just the other day that we were swimming in the river, picking fresh vegetables and wearing hats to protect ourselves from the sun.
Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. With the season comes dinners, extended family, work, church, school and neighborhood parties, friends, shopping, baking, wrapping, Christmas cards, long lines at the post office, fighting traffic at the mall, and on and on and on it goes. All of this on top of lives already over-flowing with expectations, commitments, dead-lines, stretched budgets, broken dreams and frayed relationships! Talk about stress!
For many men in recovery, this season brings some of the most difficult challenges in their journey towards wholeness and emotional/spiritual health. More than once I have been asked, “What can I do to help protect myself from set-backs during the holidays?” This is a great question! As I prayerfully and thoughtfully pondered it, the following a, b, c’s to “Thriving Throughout the Season” came to mind. 1) Attitude of Gratitude; 2) Be Intentionally Focused; 3) Consistent Self-Care; 4) Discipline Your Thinking; 5) Engage Healthy Community.
Attitude of Gratitude
With the above mentioned stress that accompanies mid/late November through early January in our culture, many people become filled with anxiety. There is no greater tool to help dissipate anxiety in one’s soul than a heart filled with gratitude. The Apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi with these words, "Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5,6; The Living Bible).
I have been told by many clients that, at this time of year, they are especially stressed with the anticipation of interacting with extended family. Some of these family relationships are very powerful triggers, conjuring up myriad memories and unresolved conflicts. How can we battle a bad response to such triggers: prayer with a thankful heart.
I encourage you to be pro-active. Rather than waiting for the anxiety to hit, take some time away from all of life’s distractions right now and ask God to remind you of the many things for which you can and should be thankful this year. As they come to mind, write them down and thank God for His provision. Keep the list at hand and, if necessary, read it again and again to help keep your attitude one of gratitude.
In addition, look for things in the lives of those you love for which to be thankful. Verbalize your thanks and allow your gratitude to influence others! An Attitude of Gratitude can become infectious. Instead of anxiety, broadcast thanksgiving this holiday season.
Be Intentionally Focused
Everyone is focused on something. It may be a person, it may be a project, it may be a task, it may be a sport, it may be a hobby, it may be a passionate desire, it may be self-pity, it may be selfish ambition, it may be past hurts/betrayals, it may be unmet expectations, it may be whatever. Ask yourself, “Where is my focus?”
Focus determines direction, therefore, if I want to move in the right direction I must be intentional in my focus. The prophet Isaiah declared this: "People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, Steady on their feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit" (Isaiah 26:3, The Message). The King James Version states, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in thee."
I have learned that, for me, my Christianity is not rooted in how much I know about God, but rather, in how well I know God. My Savior is a relational God, and relationships are made to be experienced at our deepest levels. God wants to experience relationship with you and me as a close and personal Friend.
In order for you and me to experience such friendship with God, we must intentionally take time out from all of life’s distractions and focus on Him. Between now and early January, commit to spending 15 minutes each day reading a Psalm, writing down any thoughts that come to mind as you digest what the Psalm is saying, and then thanking God for longing to have relationship with you. Be intentional in your focus and see what happens over the next six weeks!
With all of the added activities, hectic schedules, and opportunities to over-indulge and over-eat, this time of year can and often is brutal to our care of self. Yet, our souls and our bodies must have rest and nurture if we are to maintain healthy recovery.
Spending 15 intentional minutes with God each day and maintaining an attitude of gratitude will do a great deal to nurture our souls. However, if you or I do not take equally good care of these bodies God gave us to live in, the wheels can come off of the recovery journey real quickly.
Some questions to consider are: 1) How much sleep am I getting each night? Many studies show that you and I need at least 7 hours of sleep each night to maintain optimum performance. 2) How much water am I drinking? Research has shown that, on average, we need one ounce of water per day for every two pounds of body weight. 3) How much sugar am I digesting? Sugar is a powerful drug that can and does cause a variety of negative issues to our bodies and the way they function. Enjoy the extra meals and parties, but use discipline to limit the amount of sugar you consume this season. 4) How many drinks am I consuming? Some drink no alcoholic beverages, some drink more than they should. To keep yourself free from recovery set-backs, prayerfully set limits before you arrive at functions.
Discipline Your Thinking
“As a man thinks,” the Scriptures declare, “so he is.” An old saying we have all heard goes like this, “an idle mind is the devil’s playground.” As men, we can use discipline to guide our thinking or let our lack of discipline set the agenda for us. As a man who wrestled against temptation just like us, the Apostle Paul said, "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5; New International Version).
It requires discipline in order for you and me to identify thoughts that do not belong in our minds, willfully determine to take them captive, and then choose Christ’s way over our own. Ask God to help you identify harmful thoughts as soon as they enter your mind. Remember, temptation is not a sin. It is how we react to sin that either liberates us or imprisons us. Once a harmful thought is identified, treat it ruthlessly. Leave no margin for further dallying with such a thought. Take it captive and subject it to the measure of Christ. Ask yourself, “If Jesus were right here with me physically, would I want to share this thought with Him?” If not, you know what to do with the thought. Our continued recovery is the result of disciplined thinking.
Engage Healthy Community.
Like it or not, you and I will find ourselves in the presence of people this holiday season that we would not, under normal circumstances, choose to hang out with. Whether a work-related event, church or school function, or a family gathering, we will find ourselves in some situations in which we feel less than safe or healthy. I do not believe that there is anything we can do to completely avoid such situations.
However, we can choose to engage healthy community. Plan to maintain your presence at SAA, Celebrate Recovery, or other recovery meetings. If you are in a men’s Bible Study or accountability group, be faithful in your attendance. The same goes for a couple’s group in which you and your wife may participate. Don’t allow the busyness of this season to keep you from the healthy relationships you must have. Be all the more diligent in engaging healthy community.
There is no way to remove the extra stress that the holiday season brings, but we can confront it and, with God’s help, continue our healing journey without set-backs and discouragements. May these A, B, C’s aid you to this end.