How to Avoid an Emotional Titanic Disaster in Leadership

It’s that time of year for me again to go in for my yearly physical. I am not very intentional about it, and yet I know it is critical for me to monitor my health on a regular basis. If I want to enjoy life and the beauty of all I hold dear, it’s not an option, I have to just do it!

It’s the same for me in other areas~emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I need a regular check-up. So  let me ask you, how is your health these days? More specifically, how is your emotional health? Let’s start there. Many of us like to ignore this part of ourselves. We’d rather just gloss over and assess our physical and spiritual well-being, that’s easier. It seems like it can be measured quickly with a checklist. But when it comes to our emotional side, we can be sailing away as happy as the Titanic oblivious to the impending danger ahead, and like that fated night, the ship that wasn’t supposed to ever sink, not only sank, but over two-thirds of those onboard lost their lives in the frigid sea. There were miscalculations from the master builders of the ship to the crew and as a result it became one of the largest disasters of that era.

Digging into the emotional side of us can be intimidating and rather frightening. It’s like digging into the back of a deep closet. I have two of those in my house. I’ve only recently had the courage to take everything out that is in front and really clean out the back. I found both treasures and items I had to discard including mystery boxes full of things I didn’t even know I possessed. It was work, it took time, but now I know what’s in the back of my closets. It brings order to that part of my life, and it feels good.

Digging deep emotionally and cleaning out the back of our emotional closets is healthy. I have found it to be tough but it has brought a level of health to my heart as I’ve been willing to look at some hard stuff. If you are like me, I need help to know how to begin to even dismantle this closet in my soul. How do we start?

I have a dog-eared copy of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I have read it so many times I need to get a new copy. I’ve used it to encourage others to start the journey of becoming emotionally healthy because it has been transformative for me.  Peter says, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature, while remaining emotionally immature.” He lists 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality.

Read them, make a note of which ones trigger some red flags and then do some investigation to start on the journey of your own emotional health AND….

Talk it over with a friend, see a counselor if you have to.

Take the first step of digging deeper.

I promise you it is worth it.

Not easy and gut wrenching.

But worth it in the long run. I believe every leader needs to contemplate the principles Peter has in this book. It opened my own eyes several years ago of just how much this side of my life impacts everything I do, from my personal life to how I lead others. It has shaped and changed me as I’ve allowed God’s spirit to help me get to the back of that deep dark closet.

Here are the Top Ten Symptoms:

1. Using God to run from God

2. Ignoring the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear

3. Dying to the wrong things

4. Denying the past’s impact on the present

5. Diving our lives into “secular” and “sacred” compartments

6. Doing for God instead of being with God.

7. Spiritualizing away conflict

8. Covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure

9. Living without limits

10. Judging other people’s spiritual journey

Hit a nerve? Any of these make you feel uncomfortable? Great! That’s a good sign, you are on the path. Ask God to help you know how to start and just pick one or two. Small consistent steps make for permanent change.

Life piles up, we cycle in and out with our habits and patterns. Eventually, if we don’t take note of what’s going on deep inside, we may hit an emotional disaster like the Titanic and sink. I encourage you to pay attention to your heart, dig deep and do some preventative work as Proverbs 4:23 says, Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life.”

(Picture from www.beyondphilosophy.com/blog March 2013)

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero: copyright 2006, Integrity Publishers,Franklin TN, page 24)

How to Breathe When Your Tired and Life is Overwhelming

just-breathe-500x380Did you know that God knows when we are overwhelmed, tired, and need to just step back and take a breath? He created us, he knows our vulnerable humanity.

He beckons us with his gentleness and mercy.

He invites us to come, come and come again and rest.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”Matthew 11:28-30 (MESSAGE)

My answer to those questions above is, YES, YES, YES!!

When life is overwhelming I just plain want to lie down and sleep for five days. It’s not that I am tired of life, I am tired because of life. Does that make sense? I get myself into these states from cramming more and more when I should be leaving room to breathe. Sometimes it can’t be helped, life piles up but it’s a signal to me that if it starts heaping and I can’t see over the top then I I know I need to stop and breathe. I need to apply what it says in this profound little passage in Matthew.

I need to get away with God and recover my life.

I need to walk with God and work with him instead of always thinking he will love me more if I work for him.

I need to learn from the unforced rhythms of grace. I love this phrase. Unforced rhythms of grace. No striving, no pushing, nothing but leaning in the flow of God’s wonderful grace.

I need to trust God more when life feels heavy. He knows, He sees and He wants to shoulder and carry the burden. I am not alone.

I need to keep company with God moment by moment and not pull away from him when life is overwhelming.

Life is hard, but God is good all the time. I try to remember that when my feelings say life is overwhelming and I am having a hard time managing the ordinary everyday tasks.

When I am tired my emotions play tricks on my mind. They rise up like King Kong larger than life in my world and overtake the rational sensible part of me. I go to pieces and everything looks dark and bleak. It’s the melancholy Eyeore side of me that I wish wouldn’t show up so much. Sigh…. but God knows and He is teaching me so much about what it looks like to lean in and curl up and rest in His loving lap when I struggle.

Here are 5 simple ways to take a breath when life seems overwhelming. This is what I am learning to practice. They aren’t brilliant, just a few simple ways that help me to remember to breathe.

1. Stop what you are doing and literally breathe~sit down, and just take a breath, make a cup of tea, java or hot cider, hot chocolate and take a breath. (If you have wee ones, do your best, you know what works for you and when). Did you know that when we are overly stressed we don’t breathe like we should? We don’t take the deep breaths that can relax us our bodies and give us what we need physically to counter what we are facing. Breathing is critical for everything from our mental health to our metabolism. Try it, next time you are stressed over the top, check to see if you are breathing properly and then take a big gulp of air and BREATHE!

2. Don’t take yourself so seriously and stop thinking about all the things you should be doing instead of just resting in God’s holy presence. Worship music always helps my restless soul to settle, breathe again…sigh

3. Take an inventory of your life and say out loud to God at least three things you can be grateful for right in the overwhelming moment. We can ALWAYS be thankful for something.

4. Write a note of encouragement or call someone who is wrestling with pain and hurt in life. Learn about a cause that incites your passion, interact, research it, learn more, act on it. It will do your heart good to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Reaching out instead of isolating is good for the soul.

5. Remember to “Relax and rest. God has showered you with blessings. Psalm 116:7 (Message)

Like I said, they aren’t brilliant and maybe your creativity can add a few more. The bottom line is, I hope you are breathing today and remembering how deeply loved you are by God no matter what life is handing out to you today. Ready? One, two, three, BREATHE!

The True Facts About My Depression

There I said it. I have suffered with depression. Severe, debilitating depression.

More than once. More than twice. Okay, more times than I can count over the last decades.

Depression is debilitating, humiliating kind of just plain exhausting and complicated. These are the reasons I have been like a yo-yo in being open and transparent sometimes and other times wanting to keep it a secret. It’s the part of my life, I don’t always want to admit to let alone share with others. Why? Because my greatest fear has been being misunderstood. Wearing a label of depression can cause you to be vastly misunderstood. It’s okay to say, oh I broke my leg, I have diabetes, I have fluctuating hormones and people still respond to you as normal. But to boldly admit like we have the flu~”I am depressed, my brain is broken right now, I can’t think, I am having a hard time functioning,” causes people to politely smile and walk away uncomfortably not knowing what to say or do to encourage the person struggling. Or yet, thinking it’s contagious, that black cloud just might follow them! I’ve experienced it and believe me I’ve had some weird stuff said to me. No wonder people who wrestle with depression want to isolate themselves. Who wants to be the leper?

Recently, like this past weekend. I was challenged that every single part of my life is my story. Not just the parts that I want to include, but even the ugly, messy and excruciating complications that I would want to forget and never share. I don’t think I was thinking too clearly when I wrote my book Unlocked and It’s a little too late now because I’ve come out of the closet telling the story of my worst depression season. It’s in the chapter on Leading with Authenticity and I revealed one of the deepest hardest seasons. I was obedient. If I had my way, I would of chosen anything else, but God whispered differently. I have to admit that I need to go back and read my own chapter to remind myself of how the abundant fruit from that season of pain has flourished in my own heart and with those I’ve shared my story.

God has asked me to take it a step further by jumping off another cliff. Today I invited the whole world to have a chance to sit and read my journal from that season. Not all five years worth, but a few segments of my struggle woven with insights from God’s Word and a place for the reader to journal their own story about depression. I bribed them on Facebook and Twitter. I asked them to subscribe to my blog and then I would give it away for free. I wasn’t sure what would happen, and then the emails started coming in. I am humbled and at the risk of sounding too narcissistic, I am truly grateful that my brutal season of darkness can encourage another tired weary soul. I surrender to the story that God has and is writing through my life.

The true facts about my depression are this:

1. It is in my family history, and it has been my reality. I accept it and have seen God minister grace to me in the darkest places.

2. My depression doesn’t define me, label me or change the way God wants to use my story.

3. God created me, he knows me intimately inside and out. He works all things together for His good (Romans 8:28) in my life.

4. I am blessed and know that experiencing depression has deepened my faith, taken off the rough edges of judging and being too hard on others, and taught me compassion and how to really listen to others in pain.

You might be thinking, Cynthia you need to get over yourself. Yes, it’s been my pride and recovering perfectionistic tendency that has kept me from being real and open. I am still growing, still learning but yet with thIs hope…

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. Philippians 1:6 (Message Bible).

 

Are you Tethered to Your Pain?

Heating padI am really frustrated today.

I dislike being incapacitated. I’m a doer.

I still have pain (sore back) and it is immobilizing, keeping me from being productive this week.

When I showed up at the pharmacy the other day they promptly told me that they couldn’t fill my prescription because they didn’t have enough meds. LIke a wild-eyed woman I leaned over and said, “Give me what you have, I HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING TODAY!”  At that moment I thought, “What will they think? I have an addiction to pain meds or what?” The people around me probably thought I was nuts, but when you are in pain, the whole world seems very small around your personal space and it was enough that I was able to drive myself to the pharmacy.

It’s been a few days now, and although the meds have taken the edge off, this is getting really old. It is the order of the day and of which I have no choice but to submit to the pain and process of a slow heal. YUCK!

Can I get some empathy?

I am on the verge of having my very own pity-party complete with loathing thoughts and actions that wouldn’t be too becoming a a God-fearing woman.

Today, I discovered a way to be able to do more instead of just sitting around burning my bum with a heating pad. I have been walking around the house on a leash, okay, it’s not a leash but rather my heating pad with a very long extension cord. I am tethered to my heating pad to ward off the waves of pain. It looks ridiculous and a few times I’ve caught myself on handles and doorknobs becoming a human bungi cord which of course doesn’t help my condition. It brought back a fresh reminder of how much I am not only tethered to the heating pad cords but also to the pain.

I am not sure why I get these ephiphany’s when I’m minding my own business and God uses the most frustrating moments to get through to me about issues he wants me to pay attention to. I’ve downloaded more whisperings from God today then I did on my “be still” weekend I had recently.

So let me share one of the downloads God spoke to me about. I was reminded of what C.S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to the world.” God uses pain to get our attention. Whether we invited the pain or fell into it head first, God uses it to speak to us, if we will listen. In my case, the message in the pain that I am having to give attention to has to do with what I wrote about last month. Letting go. It’s evident I needed another lesson.

Letting go, is so exasperatingly hard. (Is that a word?). It is difficult for me because I think I can control my circumstances and outcomes but I can’t and I am not called to do that. How old will I have to be for me to really get that I am not in control? As I was walking around my house it was the perfect picture of how our pain can keep us tethered from moving forward and keep us stuck.

No one wants to stay stuck, but sometimes our pain can keep us in that place.

It’s familiar. It’s comfortable and becomes a sort of heating pad that covers up the need for us to move on. The pain can drive us to make a choice to stay stuck instead of trying to learn from it all we can in the moment.

It’s what I’ve written recently in my new book Unlocked: 5 Myths Holding Your Influence Captive.

“I have discovered that there is purpose in pain. There may not be clarity in the pain, but I choose to believe that God is still God. He sits on the throne of heaven underscoring every single detail of my life. The lessons of pain from my past free me to breathe hope to others. It grants me the tremendous privilege to empower another tired desperate soul toward seeing a glimpse of God’s perspective on what they are experiencing.”

Notice I didn’t say that the pain necessarily goes away, it provides an opportunity to not waste the moment. Yes, it hurts, it sucks, it stinks, but when I lean in, God’s grace floods over the hurt and gives me what I need to take the first steps of letting go so that he can turn that pain into purpose.

It’s now the end of the day and I still have a white cord hanging down and plugged into the electrical outlet. If I want to move and go to the other end of the house to get where I need to go, I have to unplug it, which means I lose the comfort of the heat. The same applies in my life. The pain may follow me as I let go. It might even hurt more, but if I push through it beyond nurturing it and holding on, freedom will come and new change and seasons will follow.

This gives me courage to listen and be obedient to God’s whispers, I pray it will help you to let go too.

But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.                                                                     For I am about to do something new.                                                                                        See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?                                                                                 I will make a pathway through the wilderness,                                                                                I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:18,19 NLT