Learning To Live Well

The Art of Being Alive, Not Just Surviving
by Eric S. Love

podcast available

Before we get into this too much, I want us to consider two forces - two keystones, if you will - working on our behalf that will really help us in our quest to live well:
1. The Staying Power Of Jesus
*Immanuel/Emanuel: God With Us (He calls Himself this for a reason)
*I will never leave you or forsake you (this is His promise)
*God came to Abraham (He initiated the whole thing and followed through brilliantly: He sent Jesus later on)
*The Indwelling Of The Holy Spirit (Doesn’t get any more obvious than this level of intimate interaction)
*Love (the force that compels Him and us)

2. The Blessed Gift of Relationship
*The value of relationship cannot be overstated
*The most obvious way we experience communion with the Father (think of the very act of communion and what it represents and that it is to be shared between us)
Look at this: when I talk about relationship, I am talking about this within the context of God’s gift of it to us. We NEED relationship with the Father through the Son and His Spirit, but if all we have with Him is intangible interaction that is solely based on what we feel or think, then our relationship with Him becomes immaterial. Faith is not dependent upon the natural world, but it is heavily influenced by it. It may seem pious to separate yourself from others in a holy pursuit of God, but this was never asked of us in the Word. In fact, the entire Bible drives us to healthy interactions and relationships with others as an act and part of our relationship with the Father, part of the worship of our lives.

Choice: Bitterness Or Freedom
These two forces work powerfully on our behalf to help us choose to walk in the freedom Jesus paid for instead of eking out our lives in bitter misery.

We all have a choice: how will we live? This choice is a critical one and it takes a lifetime to make. But we make it every single day, just enough to last for that day. The conflict of making this choice can drive us mad or set us free, depending on what we do with it.
It is a common affliction and is no more obvious than in the case if teens/young adults.
- teens are hell bent on discovering their own identity without the influence of circumstance/family/upbringing (best case scenario) or in spite of them (worst case scenario)... but happening during the most turbulent period of their lives: want to be adults but only know how to be a child - and are expected to be both

Life is difficult. And it doesn’t get easier just because we’ve lived longer. In fact, it usually gets harder. What makes life easier is when we learn to live better. I mean that just like it sounds: living is a skill. Survival is an instinct, but to really live takes practice, dedication and heart.

We have the capacity for abundant life, thanks to Jesus, so how do we learn to live it well and in abundance? How do we learn to be AT HOME in ourselves, comfortable in our own skin?

How do we live in such a way that we obliterate things like depression, anger and fear?

We fight for it.

If you are thinking right now “I can’t help how I feel...”, this is my encouragement to you: Shut-up. (And yes, I mean that exactly the way it sounds.)

Look, everything we learn in life is difficult. Do you remember learning to talk? It took you years to figure it out. Learning to walk? You remember how often you fell? What about riding a bike or getting an education? What about mastering the skills of your trade?

All of these things come from trial and error, some of them are instinctual, most have the advantage of us being pushed by some force outside ourselves (parents, society) - but ALL of them happen because we try and fail and try and fail until we trial and kind of succeed and keep trying and keep trying until our successes become stronger, and eventually... we get it.

Learning to live well is the same. But it’s amazing at how stoic we become in adulthood, unwilling to think differently than we do now - believing it is outside our control (which is amazing, since we are all fighting for control of things, but we just let the one thing we can control - ourselves - just kind of run itself). We even become arrogant in our refusal to change so that it borders on blasphemy.

Either God is a liar or we don’t have to live under this garbage.

So here is how to do it:

Step 1: Recognize this simple principle: if things aren’t changing, it’s because you aren’t changing. You have to start with what you have closest to you: your own thoughts and self. Begin there.

Here’s the reality: you cannot control anyone else. But you better be able to control yourself. You cannot control most circumstances around you. You can make choices that should lead to some measure of control (by choosing the right friends, by avoiding stupid risks, by not giving yourself to areas of weakness), but, in the end, you have very little control over what happens outside and around you. You only really have control in how you respond.

That’s why it is so danged vital that you control what happens inside you.

You are the only thing you can control. So recognize the fact that if nothing is getting better, the place to start making things get better is internally.

Here’s a thought: separate your identity from those things you struggle with. For example, depression. Do not associate yourself (your identity) with being depressed. Recognize depression as a derivative of a combination of factors in your life: loss, disappointment, things suffered, wrongs done, failure, fear, injustice.... whatever. It may have been influencing how you think and live for years, but it IS NOT YOU.

As long as you identify yourself with the thing you need to be fighting, then you are fighting yourself. And let me tell you: you will not win that fight.

Your instinct should be to stay alive, not to slowly smother yourself over the course of years under a blanket of fear or depression or in the flames of unchecked rage. Separate those things in your head from who you are, and then fight THEM (not yourself) as a force that is working against you, to bring you harm, to KILL you. Use your own desire to live push you in this.

And again, I want to encourage you to NOT encourage yourself to stay in those places just because it is the only thing you know. (In other words, shut-up telling yourself you can’t help it.) Think of your children: you do not fault them because they think like children, but you do encourage them to stop crying when they don’t get their way, because things don’t turn out the way they want. You understand they are children, but you also understand that if they pitch a fit when they are 32 years old because Dairy Queen sells out of Cookies-n-Cream Blizzards, then there’s going to be a big problem. So you encourage them to grow up... that’s what you need to do.

Step 2: Acknowledge the Truth. Do this as much as you can. Say it to yourself so you don’t forget it. When you do forget it, remind yourself afterward.

The first truth you need to acknowledge is that, yes, you can change. It will not be easy, but it is possible. (And it will be easier than you think... I mean come on, right now you think it’s impossible - so it’s definitely easier that that!)

Here is the catch with this: in order to acknowledge the truth, we have to be able to see the truth. It’s easy to talk about separating these things from how you identify yourself, but it is much harder to actually see the truth of that to an extent that you can feel it when you grab hold of it.

So here is how to get around that: trust those you trust. Understand that they can see things in you that you can’t.... Don’t you see things in those you know best and sometimes they don’t see those things themselves? You think your special, with some insight into others that they don’t have into you? Come on.

You trust these people, so trust them. Let them tell you the truth and you feel them - a physical, tangible manifestation of the truth you need to acknowledge - until that truth, of its own substance, begins to take shape in your hands and your heart and you can feel it for yourself.

Also, be with Jesus. Dwell in the Holy Spirit. Meditate. Focus. Worship. Read the Word. See the truth for yourself there - and buy into it.

I am not talking about brainwashing yourself to believe something that isn’t true. I am talking about freeing your mind from the brainwash that has happened slowly to you over the years of your life because you’ve lived under the things you live under.

Another part of this truth you need to acknowledge goes back to step one: this thing is not you.

Step 3: Act on the Truth. Don’t act on fear or insecurity. Don’t act on feeling.

Let me give you another priceless tidbit: your emotions will betray you. Think about it, they are emotions... they thrive on feeling - and what we “feel” strongest are those feelings that move us the deepest... and they are usually unpleasant. Pain. Rejection. Anger. Disappointment. Betrayal. That’s why our emotions will almost always jump to the worst case scenario, will cling to conflict and tragedy like a life ring. We want to feel. That’s why we watch horror movies and sad-sappy dramas.

So remember that: your emotions aren’t your enemy, but they do love a good cry (or rage, or whatever). Don’t trust them. Don’t trust your feelings. Act on truth, not what you feel.

Communicate these things. This is very important. Look: you were never asked (and not designed) to stand alone. Independence is a beautiful thing, but it only works within the context of healthy relationships. Again, trust the people you trust by communicating to them what you are feeling. They can help you sift through that stuff. It’s overwhelming to you because it’s all in your head (and everywhere around you, too). They cannot fix you (and if that is their goal, you’ll both fail) but they can be there and help you manage the stuff you can’t manage on your own.

Tell them where you are and let them talk you out of being there if that’s what needs to happen. At least let them give you some perspective that isn’t so bleak - and trust them. This communication will give you stability. Don’t keep these things in secret. They too easily become part of our identity that way. Bring them into the light. Expose them.

Act on the truth. Start looking for the truth to come back during times when you really struggle, when you fail to hang on to the truth. Begin behaving based on the truth even when every other instinct you have seems to be shouting at you to do the opposite. And when you fail, go back to the truth - and do not wait to feel like it. Just do it. This is why communicating how you feel and what’s going on is so important.

Let’s look at fear for a second. Fear is a powerful glue that will hold you to whatever it is you are afraid of. You are afraid there is a monster in the closet, so it will hold you to that false reality until you actually begin to see the monster in your closet. You are afraid that you are all alone in the world and your fear will hold you to that false reality until you begin to actually see the desperate attempts of your closest relationships to tear themselves away from you.

Then you will act on that fear. You will begin to alienate yourself from the people you are afraid of losing, and thus begin the process of losing them. You will begin to dip into the area of failure in places where you are afraid - certain even - that you will fail, and turn your fear of failure into the reality of failure.

Fear is a glue that is best to avoid. It is better to be stupidly optimistic than afraid. One thing those you trust cannot do - ever - is fight your imagination. You have to do that. You have to make a choice to be open and honest with them - communicate, and trust them until you can see the truths they see for yourself.

Step 4: Take Another, Broader Look. Sometimes the best thing you can do is change your perspective by backing up and looking at it from a distance.

Here is where those you trust can help. (Do you see the irony of me saying “trust those you trust?” If you trust them, then why don’t you trust them? If you say you trust them, prove it.) They can help you get a perspective that isn’t so closely tied to your right-now moment.

In order for this to work, you have to be willing to allow the way you see things to change. This can be quite tricky when we have seen things a certain way for so long that now we “know” that is the only truth (When really it’s not, but we are so convinced of the reality of it that we are unable to see it differently. Again, acknowledge the truth: or, at least, acknowledge the possibility of truth in what those you trust are saying. That’s the first step in getting a different perspective.)

Things will get better. How do I know? I don’t, but they will if you want it bad enough. And I do know that. Look at where you’ve been... yes, there’s some bad stuff there, but there’s good stuff too. Look at where you are. You’re alive. You’ve made it this far. As we’ve already said, simply surviving is overrated, but if it’s all you’ve got it’s something. You’re still alive... and you aren’t alone. That’s hope for you. Things will get better.

Do things always turn out as bad as you think? My guess is, no they don’t. Even when they do, do they end up being as bad as your afraid? Probably not. Even if they are, do they stay that way? Not forever.

Perspective is a powerful thing. When combined with imagination, it can devastate. But you shouldn’t be afraid of either. Like a car, they can kill you or get you where you need to be. Get the right perspective and keep your imagination moving you forward - not backward.

Step 5: Practice Believing. For those of us who are not used to it, having faith can be quite a challenge. That’s why we need to practice.

Understand, this takes time and will not happen over night. Also realize that it is your faith (what you believe determining how you live) that is responsible for where you are. It’s now simply a matter of retraining yourself to believe in a different direction.

To do that, you need the discipline and accountability of the Holy Spirit and relationships with those you trust. You have be willing to look honestly and even hold on to those things you aren’t even convinced of the truth of yet (but compelled to try because people you love and trust believe it).

Practice makes perfect, but not right away. Keep it up.

Don’t get frustrated because results are slow in coming. Change that happens quick rarely lasts, but change that takes time usually lasts, pretty much, forever.

Eric Love, 12/26/2010