Nowadays, idolatry assumes a kind of form of projection. In other words, we project onto something the hope that by believing in it or by having a lot of it, that will grant us some kind of secular salvation. I think at root, idolatry is a flight from life itself.
When we are comfortable with the idea of reaching for an idol, or we understand the role that it plays, we realize I am a person looking for a salvation system. I love the idea that there’s something out there — some system, some technique, some person — that can actually help me with my own need for human resiliency.
— “Idolatry for Beginners” on CBC Radio’s Ideas (listen here)
On the way home from Bible study last night, I stumbled upon a broadcast of “Idolatry for Beginners.” I was intrigued by the investigation of idol-worship in a secular culture. In the end, what the CBC’s panel of speakers outlined was really something that resonated with me.
We all have idols. It could be our career or our family, or our friends or our Twitter followers. Our idol could be our religion itself — for example, I think Christians often make social issues, such as abortion or gay marriage, an idol in their life instead of chasing the heart of Christ.
But in the end, an idol is merely a distraction from the Self. It’s a false identity or a salvation system that moves our awareness and our focus to an external subject, distracting us from what’s real and what’s important. The crucial question to ask is, if your idol was taken away, what would you be? Because idols always fall and the only truth left is you.
You can set up the perfect family. You can set up the perfect educational path. You’ve got the career, the job you worked so hard for. If it falls, if it’s knocked out, what’s left? When I’m reaching for a salvation system, I’m reaching for those very fundamental things that I need: approval, safety, comfort…
— Lorna Dueck, producer of a television show that explores current affairs from a Christian perspective, on “Idolatry for Beginners” (listen here)
Last night was such a wake-up call for me to look at my own life and ask, what are my idols, and what is the true nature behind these idols. Especially when it comes to the positive things, like a job and my social life and my spirituality. Yes, even religion. Especially religion. Religion’s social atmosphere and structure and rituals and rules can become your idol when it distracts you from true salvation and the one true God that moves through this universe.
When I’m at that place where I have to ask, ‘Am I worshiping God or am I worshiping an idol of God?,’ it helps to evaluate if the outcome of my actions produces fruitfulness. Am I replicating what God’s gift to the world replicates? Is life flowing from me, is joy coming from me, is welcome coming from me. Those are all good fruits. But when you start to reach for things that actually sap your fruitfulness from you, when you start to lose your ability to give life and joy, the idol has done its work.
— Lorna Dueck
Be free of your idols.
You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
― Eric Roth
Writing is much like any career. You can get stuck in doing something safe, something that feels comfortable and normal and routine. There’s nothing wrong with that, really. But is your need for safety and comfort keeping you back from fulfilling your wildest writing dreams? That novel you want to write or that new blog you want to start or that new type of prose you’ve been dying to try?
Even worse, your writing career can sometimes leave you in a niche or an industry that isn’t fully utilizing your key strengths and your core passions. For example, maybe you’re a corporate communicator but business writing isn’t really your thing. You are doing both yourself and your career a disservice!
Take some time today to analyze your writing career’s current status. Is this really what you want to do? Is there another type of writing you would prefer? Don’t give up your writing dreams for the sake of feeling safe and secure in a less than optimal writing path.
Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing…
― Maya Angelou
“[On meditation:] If you are a Christian, think of the Christ, who came not to be served by others but to serve them in joy, in peace, and in generosity. For these things, these are not mere words, but acts, which go all the way, right up to their last breath. Even their death is a gift, and resurrection is born from this kind of death.”― Jean-Yves Leloup
Often, the bright colors of candy eggs and the saccharin sweetness of marshmallow peeps distract us from the story behind Easter — a story that, if truly understood, should resonate with everyone regardless of their religious background.
- A story of humanity being unable to see the divine in their fellow man and crucifying Him.
- A story of a Man who opened His heart to God’s infinite love for Him, and His infinite love for humanity.
- The story of the ego — here represented by the material world, as that is all that the ego really is — being completely destroyed, yet what is left — the soul — being empowered and defying every law of nature.
The challenge for us now is to live the life that is presented to us by the resurrection of Christ.
- To stay open to love — the Love that God has for us and the love that we must show others.
- To follow Him, and all that His story teaches us about generosity and humbleness and hope and joy and peace and selflessness and the absence of these, which is the sin that separates us from what God has to offer.
- To live free, resurrected lives. Free of the false accusations with which others crucify us. Free because Christ made us free through His own resurrection, conquered the material world, and brought heaven down to earth.
“Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”― N.T. Wright
…it doesn’t change you.
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca
People love inspirational stories. I’m sure you’ve heard of that one story where someone has a disability, a handicap, a disadvantage, but then overcomes it and becomes successful, or finds true love, or runs a marathon, or makes it. These types of stories go viral on YouTube, get featured on The View and sometimes end up being turned into a multi-million-dollar Hollywood feature.
What is YOUR inspiring story?
We all have that chance to be that inspiring story, to overcome the odds and beat our obstacles and break through that brick wall that is between us and what we want in life. Today, you faced a challenge. How did you respond?
It could have been a big challenge. It could have been a small challenge. It could have been a personal crisis in your family, or the simple temptation of that doughnut in the office. Life is full of questions and situations and moments that challenge our resolve in big or small ways. And every time you are challenged, you are changed. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
One of the most important lessons I have ever learned is that challenges aren’t to be hated. There was a time that I wanted the easy life and always took the easy path. The path of less resistance, of less conflict, of — dare I say — laziness. But what I’ve discovered is that challenges really help point you in the right direction.
Experience the joy, the wisdom and the compass-correcting power of life’s challenges. They’re opportunities for you to learn your limits, and then learn how to live beyond those limits and find new expressions of yourself and your strength. Challenges make you stronger, and when you view them as blessings, challenges can become the next big inspiration in your life.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch
How was your personal story today? How did you react to the challenges that the universe placed in your path?
Was today a total wipeout? Pause, take a breath, and focus on the present moment. Acknowledge any regret you might feel, and let it go. Feel free, be free. There, you’ve just won your first challenge! You’ll have another chance to prove your mettle in battle.
Was today a good day? Pause, take a breath, and acknowledge your strength. You’ve got this.
1. Thinking you’re not creative
We are all creative in our own way. Find your strengths and work with that.
I’ve talked to people who have this burning, passionate desire to write, but feel like they can’t or shouldn’t because they never went to journalism school or aren’t part of the traditional “creative field” like design or illustration or writing novels. And yet these same people find unusual ways to explain a Pinterest project (craft blogging!) or are perfect at analyzing and breaking down science reports (technical journalism!).
Cater to the strengths that God has put in your life. In these examples, I’ve used writing because I’m a writer. But if you’re seeking creativity in your field, whatever it is, learn to embrace the specific permutations that flow through you.
2. Wanting to be the best
You’re going to make mistakes. Embrace that. Perfectionism often kills creativity because you wait for the perfect answer or spend days honing the perfect article, when that time could have been spent on other creative projects or on doing non-work things that restore your creative energy. Learn when to let go and say, “This is good enough.”
3. Being afraid of being wrong
Often, the fear of making a mistake keeps us from taking that adventurous leap that unlocks our creativity and shows us new, profound ways of doing a certain project or tackling a specific problem. In those times, ask yourself what the worst thing that could happen could be, and you’ll usually find that it’s worth the risk.
History is full of inventions like the modern engine or the computer chip that would never be here if people were afraid to make a mistake. Thomas Edison is said to have tried to make the light bulb 10,000 times.
One of the most insidiously self-sabotaging questions is, “Why can’t I meet the right man [or woman]?” It implies that there is someone out there, maybe in Mongolia or someplace, and if only you knew where he or she was, then you could pop over on the next flight.
But since metaphysically nothing is outside of us — everything we experience is a reflection of what’s going on in our head — there’s no point in flying to Mongolia if we’re not already the perfect fit for our ideal partner. And once we are ready, we needn’t go anywhere because he or she will simply appear.
[Excerpted from The Age of Miracles by Marianne Williamson, Hay House 2009, page 115]
We love each other because he loved us first. — 1 John 4:19
Oh, Valentine’s Day — the day that marketers and corporations around North America tell us that it’s necessary to spend $20 billion on heart-emblazoned cards and heart-shaped chocolates. Regardless of your sentiments about this holiday, it is a great opportunity to pause and ask: Are you loving the most important person in your life?
I’m not talking about your spouse or your significant other or your children or your best friend, though all those people truly are important to love. I’m talking about You. You can’t truly love others until you learn to love yourself.
Just look around at all the dysfunctional relationships that surround us in society — the breakups, the divorce, the friendship feuds. When someone hasn’t learned to accept himself, he will try to earn acceptance from others, which leads to poor relationship choices and compromises. When someone hasn’t learned to live with her own glorious imperfections, she seeks perfection in others, which is a burden no human being can carry and leads to utter disappointment. When someone hasn’t come to understand and control his own emotions, he tries to control others, which leads to unhealthy emotional bondage.
To be truly fulfilled in life and relationships, you have to find the love within you and give it to yourself. No other person, material possession or accomplishment can do it. It’s up to you. — Mike Robbins
Break the cycle. Return to your self, and learn to love your self. It’s what Jesus preached when he commanded us to love our neighbours as our selves. If we can’t love our self, how can we spread and show authentic Love — the core gospel message preaches for thousands of years — to our neighbours?
The first step in true self-love is knowing your self, and who you are beyond social labels and the model of your car and your age and the kind of neighbourhood you live in. Go beyond who society tells you you are. God made you in his image. “You are gods, you are all children of the Most High,” reads Psalm 82:6. And while life may have veered from the sinless perfection found when the divine walked the Garden of Eden, the power of Christ’s love has made you perfect. Learn who that love-perfected self is, whether through prayer or meditation or writing a journal or simply being still and letting the voices of friends and family and critics fade away. Know thy self.
Then, simply accept it. Accept who you are. The true essence of love is acceptance. Once you’ve accepted your true being, you can then accept the true beings of those around you, which will then flow outwards as authentic acts of love in your day-to-day life.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Tomorrow, February 13th, marks the start of Lent. Many people of the Christian faith devote this time to 40 days of prayer, self-denial and penance — 40 days of repenting and giving up a selected sin or bad habit. It is kind of like your second chance to fulfill your New Year’s resolution. “What are you giving up for Lent?” was a seasonal question I heard dozens of times when I attended a Christian university.
So often, we dwell on all the things that are wrong with us. I’m too lazy. I’m too greedy. I’m too selfish. I’m too fat. I’m too addicted. That’s why, for the past several years, I’ve been celebrating Lent in quite the opposite way. Instead of taking away a perceived negative aspect of my life, I instead add something positive to my life for 40 days.
You see, the more you focus on what’s negative in your life, the more it grows. You give it all of your attention, and this energy feeds it and makes it swallow up more and more of your life. The great thing is, God has already made you perfect! He has already won the victory. Stop listening to the voices of others — or even worse, the voice inside your self — that are telling you that there’s something wrong with you, something that you must stop, something that you must give up in order to become a “better” person.
You may not feel qualified, but when God breathed life into you, He equipped you, empowered you and anointed you. Believe what God says about you, not what people say about you. — Joel Osteen
Fulfill that destiny, that glory that the divine has placed in your life. Shift your ego’s energy away from everything that you think is wrong with you, and instead refocus that energy on something new and positive. Your mental space only has so much room. By filling it with the positive, you create less room for the negative.
Stuck for ideas? Here are 40 new, positive things you can do to improve your life over the next 40 days. Notice that each of these statements are about adding and increasing your universe, not focusing on something that’s “wrong.” By shifting your perspective, you open yourself up to allow God to move through you more effectively.
1. Read a verse from your favourite scriptures every morning.
2. Call, text or email a family member or friend every day to tell them how much you appreciate them.
3. Walk barefoot in a garden.
4. Drink more green tea.
5. Smile at yourself every morning in the mirror.
6. Save $1 every day and donate it to your favourite good cause.
7. Read a page from that book you’ve been meaning to read for months.
8. Listen more.
9. Meditate for 30 minutes before bed.
10. Bake some treats for a neighbour.
11. Tip 1% more than your usual tip at restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
12. Do yoga.
13. Watch a documentary.
14. Add fresh veggies to every meal.
15. Leave an inspirational message on a sticky note in a random public spot.
16. Use sunscreen.
17. Drink more water.
18. Find one thing every day to be thankful for.
19. Start journaling.
20. Trace your ancestral roots and discover where your family came from.
21. Tell someone, “I love you.”
22. Park at the far end of the mall’s parking lot so you have to walk a few extra steps.
23. Go to bed an hour earlier.
24. Wake up an hour earlier.
26. Add fresh air to your bedroom by taking care of a potted plant.
27. Try making dinner at home every night.
28. Smile at the person who helps you at the grocery store.
29. Ride a bike instead of driving your car.
30. Buy coffee for a coworker.
31. Invite friends over for board games.
32. Do five minutes of breathing exercises every afternoon.
33. Bring dinner to an elderly shut-in.
34. Take your watch off.
35. Write a prayer of gratitude.
36. Keep a reusable shopping bag in your car.
37. Get a new haircut.
38. Tell a friend what you love about him/her.
39. Go to an ethnic restaurant and order random items off the menu that you can’t pronounce.
40. Take the stairs at work.
“Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.”
― Orson Scott Card
Last night, I had one of those balls-to-the-walls* type of hot yoga classes. It was hot (hotter than usual). It was crowded (much more crowded than usual). And it was led by an instructor who’s a little more hardline when it comes to class structure.
In this type of physical and mental environment, people usually start to pass out by the third pose. But this class was full of beginners who were bent (pun intended) on making this their best first class ever. You could literally feel the positive energy in the room ― people struggling not to fall, people falling, and people getting back up to try again. And it kept us all going and was one of the best classes in my recent memory!
There’s a funny thing in yoga: the more people give up, the more OTHER people give up. It’s like the people around you drag you down the minute they lie down on their yoga mat. You can feel their exhaustion, and suddenly you’re less motivated to push harder and further into the pose.
That’s a lot like life, really. The type of community we surround ourselves with often dictates if we’re successful at what we’re trying to do.
- A report in the New York Times claims that if you surround yourself with fat friends, you’ll get fat (and, on the flip side, the American Psychological Association notes that group-based weight loss plans like Weight Watchers are often more effective than Lone Ranger-style dieting).
- A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that positive social support is linked to helping people maintain long-term romantic relationships.
- Numerous studies find that students who have peers who are successful in college/university are also more likely to be successful in those same realms.
Are you surrounding yourself with people who are chasing the same thing you are? Life is hard. Work is hard. Success is hard. But being in community with people who are trying hard to reach their goals will help to push you forward and onward.
I’ve been so blessed to have people around me who know what they want to get out of life, and are dedicated to living the best life ever. I am intentional about maximizing time with people who encourage, uplift and provoke, and minimizing time with those friends who are “stuck” and in a standstill in their careers, goals and spiritual evolution.
When I’m having one of those days where I feel tired, or filled with doubt, or lacking faith and grace in myself and God’s universe, I simply look at my peers and friends for motivation, encouragement and that boost to get me through my day.
If you feel stuck right now, take a look at your community. Are your friends and peers pushing you toward what you want, or holding you back? It’s not necessarily an exercise in subtraction, but addition. Add people to your community that build you up. Talk more with that friend who inspires you. Have coffee with that coworker whose life you envy. Be intentional about who you hang out with, because the type of people you surround yourself with often affects and reflects the type of success you will discover in your universe.
“Precisely because we are so inclined to think in terms of individual greatness and personal heroism, it is important for us to reflect carefully on the fact that the compassionate life is a community life.”
― Henri J. M. Nouwen
* “Balls to the walls” sounds a bit…dirty. Quick history lesson! This term first came from pilots to reference the act of pushing the throttle (i.e., ball) as hard as possible to hit maximum speed.
A new year often means new attempts at better health. And in many ways, better health equals better writing and creativity. For example, doctors report that regular exercise boosts seratonin levels in your brain, which in turn leads to better mental clarity. And as a writer, you know that that’s often just what you need when facing writer’s block or just a busy freelance writing schedule.
Whether you’re a New Year’s resolution maker or simply someone who wants to make this their best writing year ever, make a commitment today to take care of your mind, body and spirit. In my own writing practice and journey, I’ve found four things that have helped me to stay focused, write better and write more.
1. Get our of your chair
The average writer is almost chronically tied to her chair, whether you’re editing a Word draft or researching a query or looking at cat pictures (for creative inspiration, of course). And this can be deadly, literally! A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that your risk of dying jumped by as much as 40 percent if you sat for six hours or more on a daily basis. Get up and take a walk around your office or living room every hour to help lower your risks of an untimely doom.
2. Drink more
A 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition notes that dehydration causes everything from poor mental focus to headaches and fatigue. And writers often have lifestyle practice that lead to dehydration. Ever been so deeply focused on editing a proof that you didn’t eat or drink for a few hours? Dehydration. Ever try to improve your mental energy by drinking coffee? It’s a diuretic — boom, dehydration! Trade your coffee for tea, and aim for eight glasses of water or more per day. Better writing is just a sip away.
3. Clean your keyboard
I have a terrible habit of eating at my desk. When it’s a busy day, it buys me a few more minutes of writing time. But I’m rethinking this habit after reading a study that found that most office keyboards have 60 times more bacteria and germs than your average toilet seat. If you’re like me and eating at your desk, regularly wipe it down with some disinfectant wipes.
4. Do seated stretches
Staying hunched over your keyboard leads to chronic pain and problems for your back, shoulders and arms. Get the blood flowing and stretch your various muscles, tendons and ligaments with chair yoga. Great poses that you can easily do in a seated position include eagle arms, scale pose and mountain pose. Use yoga to give yourself a physical and mental break between writing assignments.