Category Archives: Self-Improvement

The Struggle Is Real: Mainstream Media Miss

When I decided to stop looking at pornography, I was pretty successful at throwing away all of my stuff. But as I was aging, technology was getting better—the Internet was born and gaining popularity—and cable television, which I had never had growing up, came into my life. So even though I threw out many of the things that had hooked me, the lure of sexually explicit materials came from other directions that had not been a problem before. I was struggling because of mainstream media.

media by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

While I did not struggle with the Internet, I found that television and movies caused me lots in problems in the battle for my mind. I had never considered being careful about the movies or television shows that I watched. But suddenly, I realized the content of mainstream media had shifted; the public was much more accepting of sexually explicit materials on prime-time television, and cable was even worse. When I finally went into recovery, I realized I had to take drastic measures to lessen the media’s influence on me and my porn/lust issues. Here are four things I did:

  • Take inventory. The media is not going to look out for you. When I realized that I had to look out for myself, I took action. Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” But it’s not just about your eyes: the music you listen to can trigger thoughts and emotions as well, and being a musician who loves music, I still struggle with boundaries in this area. But I know that media is a slippery slope, and I must constantly test whether I am watching and listening to things that are good for me and pleasing to God. You must know your own limits as well—they may not be as strict as mine, but it is important to set them in advance and take account.
  • Use filters. Just because I restrict myself, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy movies and media—but I do use filters as boundaries. For example, I use the website Plugged In, which reviews movies, television shows, and music. Plugged In is a Focus on the Family website, so they count every curse word and detail every bit of violence and sex in media. I may not always agree with their assessment, but checking out Plugged In before I go to the movies has saved me from falling into lust again. In addition, I have a filter on my phone—honestly, you never know when you’re going to click on a website that may contain unsuitable images.
  • Unplug. If you’re inside watching TV or on your computer, you are most likely not interacting with people. So unplug! Leave your phone at home or at least put it down for a few hours. Step away from the computer or television. Get with other people and form community. Be vulnerable and honest with them. Form intimate bonds with them, not with images on a screen. Real relationships are difficult and a lot of work: but they are worth the struggle and better for your soul. The more time I spent with others, the less time I have to devote to meaningless media.
  • Get in the Word. God’s Word is the best replacement for media, whether it is through prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship with others, or listening to uplifting Christian music. The illicit images in your head need to be replaced with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and/or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Find things that fit this description and begin filling your mind with these things. As you do, you will find the desire for mainstream media decreases as your desire for God increases. That’s been my experience!

People laugh when I tell them that I only watch Disney Channel and sports. They believe that I am missing out on the coolest shows, the best songs, and Oscar-winning movies. But what I am really missing out on is the explicit sexual content that causes me to struggle with sexual purity and pornographic thoughts. And quite honestly, I don’t miss that at all. Neither will you!

What are some ways you recognize mainstream media has influenced your thought life?

Advertisements

This Is My Story, This Is My Song: Post Recovery

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” –Hebrews 10:24-25 

story song by Grant Cochrane

image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / freedigitalphotos.net

After attending Celebrate Recovery for a year, I felt God calling me back to my former church—yes, the one I had left abruptly. I had made amends with my pastor, and he had told me, “Oakdale will always be your home.” However, I somehow believed that completing a recovery process meant that I wouldn’t face any obstacles and that I was finished with my work. So even though I returned to the church a different and better person, God was not finished His work in me. I had a lot of growing to do. In fact, I found that I was still struggling with people and with how to use my gifts. So after a brief stint back, I left again, hoping to find a place where my gifts could be used—even though my heart was not in the right place.

My search turned up dry, though, and in the midst of feeling out of community, I became involved with a man who offered me false community and intimacy. He claimed to be a Christian but was not practicing or in community with other believers. We began a relationship while he was still married. I somehow convinced myself that this was not adultery because he and his wife were separating. However, because I had stopped talking with my close Christian friends, I had no accountability. It was a brief relationship, and thankfully, God delivered me from it and opened my eyes to my sins. When the relationship ended, I repented and returned once again to the church I had left—to the community of believers who showed me the grace and love I had been searching for.

The latest years of my life have shown me a few important things:

  1. Recovery is ongoing. Even though I was free from my pornography addiction and related issues, I was still struggling with my relationships. My beliefs about relationships with men and my own worth still needed work. And I realized that my thought life was still an issue—daydreaming and control issues ran rampant. I did not leave Celebrate Recovery fully healed: I left healed of many issues, but I still need constant work to continue to grow in my walk with God.
  2. Ongoing recovery requires community. I didn’t have to stay at Celebrate Recovery, but I needed to be in community SOMEWHERE. When I stopped attending church, hanging with my Christ-like friends, and allowing myself to be held accountable, I fell into sin very easily. I went down the slippery slope so fast, I was unable to recover in time. I praise God for His grace, but I know that not having community was the biggest reason I fell into sin. Now I make community a priority in my life—so that recovery can continue!
  3. Every community is made up of sinners like me. When I left my church, it was because I didn’t believe people were communicating with God about how to use my gifts. As it turns out, I was the one not in tune with God. No matter what church you attend, no one there is perfect—including you. I had to temper my expectations about people and about God. And I had to realize that people—even and especially my Christian friends, would disappoint me and even hurt me. When I understood and accepted those things, staying in community became that much easier.

When I returned to my church this last time, I spent one year in a ministry supporting in the background. I finally submitted to God, allowing Him to develop patience in me and allowing Him to use that year to mature me in very specific spiritual and emotional areas. And when I humbled myself before Him, He lifted me up (James 4:10)—to the perfect worship leadership position for me. I currently serve there, and though it is challenging, I know that God is using this time to develop and grow me even more, so that I can face the next eight years with full confidence in Him and who I am in Him. And that is the reason I sing!

Thank you for reading my story and hearing my song! I pray that it has blessed you and encouraged you in your own walk with Christ! 

This Is My Story, This Is My Song: The Third Eight

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? –Matthew 7:3

story song by Grant Cochrane

image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / freeditigalphotos.net

I graduated from high school one week after turning 17 and headed off to college at James Madison University. I spent my first two years at college struggling to find myself and my faith. I struggled with drinking and partying and having no relationship at all with God, at one point even telling my mother I wasn’t sure if I believed in God anymore. While I had stopped looking at pornography when I came to college, it had already taken its place in my mind, changing the way I looked at people and the expectations I had for them. I cut people out of my life if they didn’t meet my criteria for what “good people” were. I judged people, had very little grace, and carried around a great deal of shame.

When I decided to turn my life over to Jesus my junior year, I left my former partying friends and joined a campus ministry, determined to change my course. But even there, I maintained that everything with me was great. No one knew that I was still secretly struggling with my self-worth and self-image, with being transparent and honest with others, and with having true intimacy in my life. I was hiding everything about myself behind academic and musical excellence. I made great friends but felt like no one understood me or the deep shame I had about my pornography addiction and struggles with lust and fantasy. I also continued to push people away with my brash and judgmental personality, leaving a trail of hurt friends in my path as I boldly proclaimed truth without love. I could see the everyone else’s faults, but I could not see my own. Even as God called me into youth ministry once I graduated from JMU, I continued losing these battles. In addition, my relationship with my family became strained. My internal struggles eventually became external, and I was abruptly fired from a youth ministry job. I took a break from working in ministry, believing that everyone else was to blame.

There I was: with broken relationships, a struggling career, and very little to call my own. I was too broken to see it then, but looking back, I can see that the common denominator in my problems was me. Too often people will look at their lives and say that they have constantly been victimized or dealt a bad hand—and sometimes, this is true. Other times, however, we are too quick to look at outside sources as the cause for our problems while refusing to look within. Why? Because it is easier to place blame than accept it. Even the Bible acknowledges this in Matthew 7:3—I was more likely to see others’ issues than my own. And Matthew 7:5 continues, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” And to be successful in ministry and life as a prophet gift, I would need to learn this difficult but important lesson.

In response to her penchant for writing songs about her failed relationships, someone said, “Did Taylor Swift ever consider that maybe she’s the problem?” Great question! Now, can we turn that around on ourselves, in our own situations, and ask, “Have I ever considered that perhaps I am the problem?” Because it’s when we are brave enough to look in the mirror instead of the windshield that we can begin to truly tackle our own issues and begin to heal.

Where do you most often look when problems arise: the windshield or the mirror?

Authentic Responsibilities: That’s a Wrap!

wrap up presents by Boians Cho Joo Young

image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young / freedigitalphotos.net

I want to close out this series on authentic responsibilities by giving you a list of all fourteen authentic responsibilities. Reading them all together in a list challenges me: I have the list printed out and posted on my wall as a reminder of my responsibilities to myself and others. I’m still working on all of these, especially clear communication and letting others know my thoughts and feelings. But the most important part is that I know what I should be doing and that I am working to improve them each and every day. Don’t let this list overwhelm you! Instead, my prayer is that you have been challenged to become more authentically responsible in your own life. Open the gift of one authentic responsibility and experience the difference–there’s no time like the present! (See what I did there? HAHA!)

  1. I alone am responsible for judging (evaluating, assessing) me – my motives (intent, needs, feelings, spirituality, abilities, intelligence, priorities, values) and to determine any adjectives that describe me. Therefore, I may refuse any judgment of me.
  2. I am not obligated to answer to a human being for why I do what I do (to justify my behaviors). That type of self-disclosure is a gift.
  3. I have the responsibility to choose whether I offer help for other people’s problems. I make my own commitments; no one can obligate me to that which I’m not committed.
  4. I am responsible for taking care of me and appropriately assisting those I’m committed to. I will sometimes change my mind. My new choice does not have to be justified and does not indicate that I have chosen irresponsibly.
  5. As a human being, I will make mistakes. I am responsible to make appropriate restitution which may include expressions of regret or sorrow, but not guilt.
  6. As a human being, I will sometimes not know the answer to a question. I am responsible to say “I don’t know,” continue respecting myself, and not accept any disrespect for “not knowing.”
  7. As a human being, I will sometimes act in a way that has unforeseen negative consequences for another. I am responsible for my own contributing to those consequences without requiring myself to have had prior knowledge I didn’t have.
  8. As a human being, I will make some decisions that others may describe as illogical. I am responsible to make decisions according to all my senses, including my sense of logic.
  9. When I do not understand any type of communication, I am responsible to ask for clarification without apology.
  10. I am responsible for deciding if and what I want to improve about me and responsible to refuse any disrespect for me about not caring to improve in a particular way.
  11. I am responsible to decide what is right for me and what is important to me.
  12. I am responsible for letting others know how I feel and what I think, instead of requiring them to read my mind.
  13. I am responsible for expressing myself without disrespecting the other and, when I do, to seek forgiveness and make plans to avoid repeating the disrespect.
  14. I am responsible to require courtesy and respect toward me.

Kathryn Chamberlin, LCSW-C

Authentic Responsibilities: What’s Right For Me

Authentic Responsibility #11: I am responsible to decide what is right for me and what is important to me.

decide by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

Last week, I wrote about clarity in communication and a situation in which I needed to have a conversation with a guy. I noted that it was time for me to buck up and pray about the opportunity to have that conversation, which I did. What I also did, however, was talk to several different friends about the situation and what was happening, unintentionally soliciting advice from all of them about what I should do. By yesterday, I had basically come unglued. I had several sets of advice to choose from, had already had another incident with the guy, and literally was crying out of frustration and stress. As I explained my craziness to a friend, she told me that I should only do what I think is right and then listen to what God is telling me. She gave this great advice right before she began a short diatribe on what she would do if she was in my situation. Luckily, she is an incredible friend—and she realized what she was doing just as I was about to point it out!

We all have well-meaning friends who don’t like to see us suffering and struggling. However, authentic responsibility #11 points out the important truth that you are the only one who can decide what is right and what is important for you. Here are two reasons why this is true:

  • You know you best. Whether it is your career path, your relationships, or your next meal, you know yourself better than anyone else. This is why self-awareness is so important! Only you can know your motives, your feelings, and your desires. As for me, this morning, I concluded that I have feelings for my guy friend—and I’m scared of rejection, so I’ve planned to set up walls and boundaries to avoid getting hurt. But I also know that in love, I am afraid to take risks. So I know I have to open myself up, be vulnerable, and take a chance—because that is the exact thing I’m afraid to do. And though others may see that about me, I frequently hide it behind the pushy prophet girl. (I know I do that, too!) Knowing yourself is the first step to truly knowing God and others. As Lamentations 3:40 says, “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the LORD.” First, look at yourself, then look to the Lord because…
  • God knows you better. I did not come to this morning’s conclusion about myself on a whim. I was praying, reading my Bible, and journaling when I realized what was going on within me, and it was revealed because I asked the One knows everything about me. Psalm 139 says that God “made all the delicate, inner parts of me and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” That means He knows my desires, my motives, and my heart better than I ever could, because He is my Creator and my Father. Understanding that God knows every intricate detail about me encourages me to seek Him! Psalm 139:23 tells us that we can ask God to search us, try us, and know our anxious thoughts—and when we do that, we learn more about ourselves and God than we can imagine! So I urge you to not only seek self-awareness, but seek God, the One who knows you better than you know yourself. He will help you decide what is right for you and important to you. 

Knowing what is right for you and what is important to you requires knowing yourself and knowing God. Become more authentically responsible by pursuing self-awareness and God-awareness, starting today!

What are some ways you can begin to pursue increased self-awareness and increased God-awareness?

Authentic Responsibilities: No Thanks

Authentic Responsibility #10: I am responsible for deciding if and what I want to improve about me and responsible to refuse any disrespect for me about not caring to improve in a particular way.

change by Stuart Miles

image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

I am unashamedly loud, and I have always had a loud laugh. And I have always faced some sort of “suggestions” from my friends—mostly my Christian friends—about how I can change different parts of my bold, in-your-face, God-given personality. In one particular instance, a pastor friend of mine heard me laughing (loudly, of course) and rebuked me in front of a group of friends by saying, “How do you expect to get a man with a laugh like that?” I was embarrassed and hurt by his comment. However, he wasn’t done—he continued to criticize my personality by asking me how I thought Christian men would feel about me being a member of the Facebook group, “Sidney Crosby is a P***y.” I told him firmly that I believed that my future Christian husband would be a hockey fan and love it—and he’d better be a member of that group as well!

My life has been full of “helpful” people suggesting improvements for me by listing the things they don’t like about me or think I should change about myself. Authentic responsibility #10 reminds me that our job is to decide whether to listen to those suggestions for improvement. Here are three things to remember about the journey to self-improvement:

  • You get to decide what. My decision to ignore my pastor friend’s advice lay firmly in the fact that my identity as a child of God had nothing to do with his specific criticisms! Those were personality issues that my friend did not like—not hurts, habits, or hang-ups that were keeping me from experiencing the joy of abundant living in Christ OR from experiencing a husband. Practice self-awareness and measure carefully the improvements suggested to you—and remember to accept encouragement and edification of yourself, not destruction (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • You get to say if (and when). Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” This means there is a time and season for you to improve yourself in certain ways! I recently experienced a season of incredible patience and heart work that God had planned for me. I had to decide to succumb to the work in me during this season. We must make our own decisions about if and when to address any issues that may be holding us back. So prayerfully ask for guidance not only about what, but if and when.
  • You get to refuse the criticism. I refused to believe that any part of my personality was keeping me from the man who God had intended for me. I rebuked my friend’s words and said no to his assessment of me. Notice that I said no to the disrespect of me, not the person! We may not love everyone’s opinion of us, but we should love them no matter. After all, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” (Anais Nin). My friend’s assessment reflected his likes and dislikes, not me. Refuse any disrespect for not changing, and do so with love.

The Bible says wise people listen to constructive criticism and correction given them (Ecclesiastes 7:5; Proverbs 15:31), but they also prayerfully consider what, if, and when to make changes in their lives. Be authentically responsible and choose wisdom!

When has someone suggested you make a change in your life? What was your response?

Enforcing Boundaries

DO NOT CROSS by artur84

image courtesty of artur84 / freedigitalphotos.net

Jennie’s mom calls her seven or eight times a day. One time while dining with Jennie’s mom, she made a point to call Jennie just to say, “We just finished dinner, and now we’re going to eat dessert. It went well and they liked my shrimp.” Because Jennie is one of my dearest friends, I knew she was frustrated. (Even I was annoyed by it!) Jennie often vents about how her mother’s life revolves around her and her family and how she wishes her mother had a life outside of her. I listen, knowing what the problem is: Jennie has not set clear, firm boundaries with her mother.

Boundaries are limitations that we place in our lives to help us meet our own needs, maximize our strengths, and minimize our weaknesses. Boundaries can help protect us emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally by regulating any circumstances that would not support our personal growth. For example, Jennie’s mother has not grown emotionally or mentally because Jennie has allowed her mother to depend on her too much. In addition, Jennie has not grown emotionally, either, because she is too afraid of hurting her mother’s feelings by being firm.

Boundaries are a healthy human behavior trait, and the following are some things you can do to have them, set them, and enforce them:

  1. To have boundaries, you must be self-aware. You cannot set limits for yourself if you are unaware of your personal needs, likes, and desires. Before I was self-aware, I would lash out at everyone when I didn’t receive enough “Michelle time”—much to the chagrin of my family and friends. Once I realized that I needed time alone to recharge, I began to plan it into my schedule on vacations, short weekend trips, and busy weeks. This helped me to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses by meeting my need for silence, relaxation, and reflection. Ask yourself the difficult questions: What do I need? What do I like? When ____ happens, how do I feel?
  2. To set boundaries, you must communicate them. Once I figured myself out, I could not expect that my friends and family suddenly just “knew” that I needed alone time—I had to tell them, and I often have to remind them! Please do not expect people to read your mind. Communicate clearly and communicate often—there is no need to defend or debate, but you must say it. Most importantly, communicate your boundaries to others with grace and kindness. You don’t need to explain yourself, justify your boundaries, or defend your choices: but you DO need to communicate them to others.
  3. To enforce boundaries, you must be firm—but flexible. A lot of people have no boundaries or soft boundaries because they do not know how to firmly but lovingly enforce them. Being firm with boundaries takes discipline and practice! You may have to repeat yourself a number of times and have consequences for when your boundaries are violated constantly. However, being firm does not mean being rigid with your boundaries. If your bedtime is set firmly at 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, but a once-in-a-lifetime event is taking place that will run until midnight, you can give yourself permission to say yes! Remain flexible but firm.

You have a right to care for yourself, and you have a right to be healthy! Boundaries are a great path to self-respect and emotional intelligence and health.

What are some boundaries that you have set in your life?