Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Your Balance

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By Michael W. Raley

Life isn’t always fair

And there are times when equal opportunities are rare.

There are those who are born into wealth and privilege,

But since they didn’t earn it, a king’s fortune is squandered.

For those who struggle to exist, this is pure sacrilege.

There are those with obvious talent and skill who waste it,

While there are those who spent their lives wandering,

Searching in the wrong places for fulfillment and meaning.

There are those who spend their lives in a self-imposed cage,

While others seethe with self-righteous indignation and rage.

There are those who walk the well-worn path,

While others seek to blaze a trail.

There are those who will not take a risk unless they do the math,

While others will make a plan only for it to go off the rails.

Somewhere in the midst of these dichotomies

Lies the individual answers, the balance,

For which we seek, knowing that it won’t be easy.

All of us travel with burdens on our backs,

Fighting the night, the cold, and our fear of lack.

However, we must continue our journeys through the dark nights

To find the harmony within our spiritual lights.

 

The Life Changer

 

My wife has filed the divorce papers and they are now in my possession. I signed off on the papers in front of the notary, but it doesn’t make seeing the “Filed” stamp any easier. The papers of course, have their legal jargon such as “dissolution of marriage,” “petitioner,” “respondent,” and the statement, “The marriage is broken.” I never thought that eighteen years of marriage could come down to a stack of paperwork stamped by a county employee.

I will not get into specifics, but I can say we are trying to split amicably. My wife has rented an apartment and I will get the house. We were never able to have children, so no one else has to be dragged through this. We have also divided up the physical possessions and are working on the final financial details. If the judge determines the paperwork is in order, the divorce could be final in as little as 60 days.

I have had my good days and bad days with this situation, but I have resolved to move on with my life. I know plenty of people who have been divorced and there is no shame in it, but I will not allow bitterness to consume me. People like to use the term “game changer,” however, this is a life changer.

Divorces and break-ups are long processes, as there are a lot of emotions involved. However, I am determined to do the work necessary to get through this grief. I have worked through a couple of stages, mainly disbelief and anger. My heart is broken, as this is another hard life event, as has everything else in the last three years.

I know what steps I have to take, but I have made a list of promises for myself:

-Do not become bitter.

-Do not let the anger consume you.

-No disparaging remarks concerning my wife.

-Set new goals in every aspect of life.

-Work on improving myself each day.

-Life live with a renewed purpose.

-Live this life for myself.

 

 

The Wall

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By Michael W. Raley

I stare at the wall and wonder,

“What does it all mean?”

Have I spent my time on the right causes

Or have I just blindly followed the crowd?

I moved forward to only get knocked back down;

I wonder how many more times I can get back up.

What I’ve known no longer works

And my journey begins anew.

I’m older, wiser, and more discerning;

Armed with equal amounts of skepticism and reason.

At this point, there is no turning back,

There will be no retreat, no surrender.

I will get around this wall,

Whether it be over, under, around, or through,

I’m coming, on my way to a breakthrough.

 

 

My Word is Resilient- What’s Yours?

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If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Would you pick this word based on events you’ve been through or would it be an ideal with which you identify?

Are you a survivor? A warrior? Thankful? Stoic? Outgoing? The choice is yours. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because deep down you know who you are, where you’ve been, and where your going.

My word is resilient because that is who and what I am.

According to the dictionary, resilience is defined by the ability to rebound, bounce back, or recover quickly from adversity or a setback. I chose resilience not to be boastful or because I overestimate my abilities, but it is based on the culmination of my experiences and being able to come back stronger than before.

Resilience, like faith, training, persistence, education, or anything else in takes a lifetime of practice and learning. Life and circumstances do not play fair, as we may face multiple obstacles at once. Many times in my life I have felt like Job in The Bible, hit with bad news on top of bad news. Although Job was never given reasons for his trials, he persisted and stayed true to his character to the end. The experiences are never pleasant, but one must soldier on and fight each day.

Being resilient is not a matter of genetics, like having brown hair or green eyes, but is a character trait that can be learned and developed over time. How does one develop resilience?

Recognize each day as its own opportunity

Over the last two years or so, I have studied Stoic philosophy, which has helped supplement my faith. Like Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, the Stoics emphasize the importance of living for today, for the present moment is all we have. Every day you are given is a day to get it right. You didn’t handle things so well yesterday, start over. Apply your new knowledge to the issue at hand. Make today an opportunity for growth and stretching beyond your capabilities.

Give yourself some time

It is very easy to get ourselves in dire circumstances- financial problems, sickness, relationship issues, to name a few. Just as you didn’t get into these situations overnight, you will not get out of them overnight. Set realistic, gradual goals, and count the victorious battles along the way. To give an example from my own life: At the end of 2015, I was laid off from my job. I knew it was going to take some time to find a new job. However, when I was laid off, I gave myself two years to get back on my feet into something better. I was unemployed for three months, but took a lower paying job to get back to work, which led to me taking a different job. In between his time, I considered starting a new career and going back to school. At the age forty, I decided to start a new career, while working 50 hour weeks. The road was arduous, but I achieved my goal one month a head of schedule. One year and eleven months later, I was on the road to something better, albeit for less money, but I found my peace of mind.

Be Adaptable

Sometimes in life, our strategies to solve problems are not “one size fits all,” as we may have to fine tune our game plan when the situation changes. Just as in sports, the coach/manager sometimes has to adapt to the other teams’s strategy, an injury, or throw out a play that’s not working. If it’s a mindset, a coping mechanism, a habit, a false belief, or something else holding you back from being resilient and achieving your goal, throw it out. Start where you are at with what you have and make the necessary adjustments to help you succeed. When I went back to school, I had to change my study habits which helped me through high school and college, because they were not helping me. I had to adapt- while fighting false beliefs about my abilities, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. As I began to adapt, I did perform better and I showed resilience through it all.

As always, the comment section is open for anyone who wants to share their word.  Thank you and God bless.

 

 

Leaning In

quote-chalk-think-words.jpgWhen I first became a Christian, one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding ; In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV). However, as I have aged and faced various trials, I find that the road is still crooked in places, along with being bumpy, forked, and hilly. Man’s religion has taught us not to question anything concerning God, His wisdom, or His Word “You’re overthinking it,” religion says.

Why such opposition to thinking on our own? We seek God individually, yet we try to find a community of other like-minded individuals to try and make sense of it all. One of the dangers of this “groupthink” is that logic, reason, and common sense can be shunned in favor of a misplaced faith or even superstition. If you were taking a trip and you knew the path was wrong or knew you were lost, wouldn’t you stop and try to figure out a new route? Recalculating the journey would not only be for our safety, but our sanity as well. During my life I have found myself at both of these extremes- the “faith-minded,” and the “logical seeker.”

I’ll admit in the last four to five years I have drifted in my faith, going from one church to another, to no church affiliation, seeking answers in familiar places, only to be left with even more bewildered thoughts. I have been a Christian since my early twenties (as of now, I’m in my forties), I have a seminary degree, and have done missions work. I say that not to boast, I just want to give you perspective on my struggle with faith. I believe part of my struggle was not doing my due diligence of what was taught. “The Bible says it and that settles it,” would be a typical retort when faced with opposition either from my mind or someone else.

How many of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves have struggled in faith? How many of us have come down from the Sunday morning emotional high only to be slapped in the face with the Monday morning reality? Why are we so scared to seek our own wisdom? Do we fear that we will be ostracized from our comfortable group? Are we scared of the accusation of “not having enough faith?” How many of us have sat by being passively-minded waiting for the miraculous to happen and watched things get worse? I’m not saying that miracles don’t happen, but we shouldn’t always expect the supernatural, sometimes we need access the resources and means at our disposal.

I’ll admit there is still at lot I don’t understand, even as I put more weight on my critical thinking and learning. For instance, as Christians we seek to “be in God’s will,” or speak of “God’s plan,” yet we seldom have a clear understanding of these terms. How can God straighten out a crooked road if we don’t know which road to take? It feels an awful lot like guess work. In these situations, I can relate to the quote from the baseball player Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I know the theological arguments and cliches for this next point, but why does God’s plan and will involve so much suffering, even for those who can’t defend themselves? Babies born addicted to drugs, born with birth defects, children who battle cancer, face poverty, children are verbally, physically, and sexually abused by parents and others, face starvation, and other horrendous struggles, which turns them into broken adults.  It breaks my heart to see such things and at the same time hear that “God has a great plan for your life.” I’ve reached a point where it is difficult to reconcile such things.

Please keep in mind that I am not attacking God, the church, or anyone else, I just have a lot of questions on my mind that need definitive answers in this life and not the next one.

Es $

Upon Further Review…

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

In recent years, I have done a lot of what I would call “mid-life reflection,” where I have pondered the direction of my life. I have also taken a hard look at what I believe and why I believe it. Does what I believe stand up to critical examination, logic, reason, and common sense? Am I willing to let go of certain beliefs if they no longer stand up to scrutiny? Can I be intellectually honest enough with myself to admit to such a finding?

To paraphrase the great Jedi masters, I have not fallen to “the dark side,” but I do allow myself to play “devil’s advocate.” Let’s take my Christian faith for example. I was born in the United States, more specifically Indiana, where Christianity is the dominant religion. Indiana coincidentally, tends to more fundamental in its faith, which by default leads people to being more politically and socially conservative. However, what if I was born in Thailand? More than likely I would have become a Buddhist, because Buddhism is the dominant religion and culture in Thailand. Same goes for India, where people practice Hinduism, or what if I was born in Saudi Arabia, where people follow the teachings of Islam?

The question becomes is our faith simply a by-product of what we are born into and therefore accept without question because it’s the norm? Also, if we believe to hold onto the one true faith, why do we react so harshly to criticism? Why has religion been the source of so much bloodshed throughout the history of the planet? Much worse than an unexamined life are the consequences of unexamined ideas and the people who follow along. We must temper what we believe with reason and not give blind allegiance to people of any religious, social, or political group, because we can find ourselves disillusioned when we place faith in man.

Examining your values and beliefs doesn’t have to wait until all hell breaks loose, but it can be a daily exercise to cleanse our minds and spirits. I intend this year to go deeper into my reflection without fear of asking the hard questions. I also intend to examine the common responses, or in most cases, cliches that all of us say because we feel compelled to say something. I want to explore deeper subjects and go beyond the surface. If faith is an ocean, I intend to explore the Mariana Trench. I am going to take a reasoned, philosophical, and verifiable approach to faith. I hope you come along for the journey. God bless.