Advent Day 21: Stop Striving

I don’t know about you, but Christmas is always the busiest time of the year for me. It’s filled with fun, family, friends, beautiful lights, gifts, and all kinds of wonderful things. But it’s also filled with shopping, wrapping, and a couple of other things I don’t like very much. Even the things that I do really love to do, like baking, can become stressful when I feel like I do not have enough time for it.

Every year I hold a cookie swap with my friends and it is always one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. We eat together, laugh, play games, swap cookies, and just enjoy each other’s company. I love that cookie swap and I love hosting it, but with the busyness of the holiday season, sometimes preparing for it can become a chore that sets me over the edge. There’s the cleaning, coming up with the games to play, buying the food, getting prizes, baking the cookies, etc that normally I enjoy but this year especially felt like I did not have time for. A couple of days ago, it caused an anxiety that I just couldn’t shake, that was affecting my behavior towards those closest to me. One morning, in the midst of my anxiety, God spoke to me. This is what he said:

“Take things one step at a time. Do not worry about tomorrow; I have already taken care of it for you. I am at work in your past, present, and future. Trust in me and I will give you the desires of your heart. You are striving to do things in your own strength. Stop striving and let me work.”

I realized that what he said was true. I was planning each minute detail of the party, but I hadn’t really stopped to consider what God might be trying to do in it. The day of the party came and I felt like I did not have enough games planned, barely got the fudge I made cut up and bagged in time, and had to ask my husband for help cleaning the house. But despite my feelings of unpreparedness, the swap went wonderfully. During the event, I looked around the room at all of the women from different churches that I had attended, laughing and talking together and realized that God was doing something. It did not matter that I did not have the exact mints that I had wanted to buy, or that I only planned three games for the evening. Everyone had a wonderful time and there was a companionship and joy in the room that could only come from the unity that we have in Jesus.

I want to remember that evening in the future when I am feeling anxious and hold on to God’s words to me: “Stop striving and let me work.”

In Matthew 1:27, Joseph is told to give his son the name Jesus, which means “The Lord Saves” because he would save his people from their sins. Notice that his name is not “The Lord Helps People Save Themselves.” Jesus did not come to help people save themselves, he came to be their Lord and Savior. We do not need to strive to be perfect, or to save ourselves. All we need is to trust Jesus to be our Savior. So stop striving and let Him work.

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Advent Day 7: Sleep in Heavenly Peace

orange cat sleeping on white bed
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I usually am quick to fall asleep and sleep pretty soundly through the night. This fall, something changed. I started having trouble falling asleep. I’m not sure exactly what started it, but every night I would be bombarded with thoughts. They didn’t really seem like anxious thoughts to me, more like plans for what I was going to do for the next day. Or week. Or month.

Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to plan out the next month of your life while you’re laying in bed trying to sleep. So after an hour of lying in bed awake, I would walk downstairs and pray and journal. I wish I could say that helped. There were some nights that I walked back up to bed after and promptly fell asleep, but there were many more nights that I still lay awake, thoughts running through my head.

Now, I am very familiar with Philippians 4:6-7, which says:

“6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I genuinely tried to give all my anxious thoughts to God, but every time that I prayed about them and offered them up to him, I just felt more stressed and bombarded by them afterwards. I didn’t really know how to give my thoughts up and they were still there after my prayers.

I tried everything that I could think of to get to sleep faster: different positions, not eating before bed, counting sheep, doing sit-ups, taking a shower. Nothing helped. I’m not big on taking medications if I don’t have to, but I even tried taking a pill/vitamin a couple of times. It didn’t work.

Then one day I read a devotional written by Sarah Young. If you’ve never read any of her books before, I would highly recommend them. They will help you hear God’s voice and work through issues that you never even knew you had!

So anyway, the devotional started like this:

“Worry is largely a matter of thinking about things at the wrong time… To avoid wasting mental and emotional energy, timing is very important. If you think about certain things at the wrong time–for example, when you’re lying in bed–it’s all too easy to start worrying about them” (Young, 2001, p.176).

Don’t you just love it when God speaks directly to you like that? It always amazes me how he gives me just what I need to hear, exactly when I’m desperate to hear it. The devotional went on to say that you should tell your thoughts “not now” and direct your thinking toward God.

I had already tried everything else, so I thought, “why not”? That night, when thoughts of work and the bazillion other things I had to do crept in, I prayed for the thoughts to stop, told them to leave, then focused my mind on how amazing God is. The thoughts tried to creep back in a couple of times, but each time I told them to leave and refocused on Jesus, His love, and the awesome things that He’s done in my life. Five minutes later, I was fast asleep.

That was a few weeks ago. I’ve tried this a couple more nights since and every time, it puts me to sleep in less than ten minutes. And my sleep is so much more peaceful and restful than it used to be!

So if you’re having trouble sleeping, I would encourage you to try it. Refocus your thoughts on Jesus and pray for the peace that only He can bring. I can’t wait to hear about your results!

Reference:

Young, S. (2012). Jesus Today. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.