Don’t waste your energy

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

I’ve spent hours, days and sometimes years consumed by worries, fears, anger, sadness, disappointment and depression. But lately, I’ve become determined not to waste my energy on things that I personally can’t change or do anything about.

Have I become apathetic? I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think so in the way I generally define apathy.

I wouldn’t say I’m indifferent or uninterested in politics, for example, or without concern about decisions made by our leaders. But, I see no value or point in spending endless hours discussing or fretting about these decisions. Does this mean I won’t exercise the powers that I do have, such as informing my leaders of any concerns or casting my vote? Of course not! I will do what I can do.

And this idea of “doing what I can do” applies to other areas of my life as well. It defines how I want to spend my time, energy and money.

Many people are probably familiar with what is known as the “Serenity Prayer.” One abbreviated version is: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Honestly, this is a prayer I’ve not always been comfortable with. I think it’s because I don’t like the idea of there being anything that can’t be changed, and I thought this prayer was suggesting just that.

But it occurs to me that I’ve been leaving out an important word — “I.” The stark reality of this hit me. I — me, myself and I — can’t change everything that may need to be changed. It’s either not my job, or to be realistic, I can’t alone do everything that needs to be done. My conclusion from this realization is that most things in life require a community to accomplish all that needs to be achieved. What a relief this has become for me!

Perhaps even Jesus had an understanding that doing what he could do might also mean that there were times when he couldn’t do everything possible. He once said, “No prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:24) And it was recorded that, “He didn’t do many miracles there because of their hostile indifference.” (Matthew 13:58)

I’ve always imagined Jesus as someone who used his energy efficiently and effectively. I don’t think he wasted energy being disappointed, frustrated or depressed that he wasn’t welcomed and accepted in his hometown in the way he was in many others.

I’ve read that the “Serenity Prayer” is a model for humility. And there are many folks who would concur that a good dose of humility is essential in good decision-making.

I can’t help but think that the asking for serenity has something — or maybe everything — to do with humility. Perhaps it’s serenity that would keep us from wasting our energy in futile ways and ultimately would result in our beneficial actions and wise decisions.

Webster defines serenity as “a disposition free from stress or emotion.” And I’ve come across many appealing synonyms that I long to imbibe and practice: tranquility, repose, calm, composure, equanimity, steadiness of mind, absence of mental anxiety, and lack of emotional agitation.

Then it’s the antonyms for “serenity” that I consider as that which leads to wasted energy: pandemonium, tumult, turmoil, unrest, uproar, agitation, anxiety, disruption, disturbance, excitement, uptightness, being flustered or perturbed.

Yes, I think Jesus went about his great mission being unaffected by disturbances around him. He remained calm, unruffled, untroubled in every situation that confronted him. This allowed him to maintain his clarity, composure and focus on his mission. And he accomplished much good.

In exploring definitions for serenity and serene, I came across a couple of phrases that continue to intrigue me: “without losing self-possession” and “serenely self-possessed.”

Might this “self” be the character Jesus so aptly illustrated by his life example? And might this “self” entail what it takes to solve difficult problems with appropriate and fair means? Something to ponder more about!

All I know is that I want to go about my own life as serenely as possible. And I am finding that to the degree I’m successful, I am making better energy choices, wasting energy less, conserving energy when needed and utilizing my energy in more creative and productive ways.

Leave the pity party!

by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Self-pity is no party, my friends! Perhaps we’ve all thrown one of these at least once in our lives. Maybe we know some folks who throw one every day.

It can be easy to justify our sorrow. We feel people have done us wrong, our life is spinning out of our control, our dreams have been shattered, or we see ourselves as the victim of circumstances. So we may believe we have good reason to be down and depressed.

We need to leave this pity party, my friends, because these thought patterns are toxic and never worthwhile. They will destroy our hope for a better tomorrow and stifle us into a martyr complex that will blind us from our purpose and potential. Besides, no one has a good and happy time at a pity party!

I’ve held a few pity parties in my life. My favorite occasion for one is when I’m feeling unappreciated and misunderstood.

During a recent pity party, I came across a definition of self-pity which explained that self-pity doesn’t come from a sense of worthiness but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. And it referred to self-pity as the response of unapplauded pride and a wounded ego.

I hated to think of myself as having a wounded ego. Was my basis for feeling unappreciated and misunderstood really my hurt pride?

Admittedly, I may not be able to change the behavior and thoughts of the people around me, but I can change how I respond to them. Just the acknowledgement of this fact made me feel empowered and encouraged — no longer the helpless victim.

I couldn’t help but remember the story in the Bible about the man healed by the pool of Bethesda. (John 5:2-9) Now truly, if ever someone could have been justified in his feelings of self-pity, this guy would have been one. He had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. And for years, he had waited by this pool to be healed. The rumor was if you were the first to get in the water at a certain time, you would be cured of whatever ailment you were suffering from.

When Jesus came upon this man, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

Instead of a resounding “YES!” the man gave an excuse of why he couldn’t. He said, “I can’t, sir, for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Of course, Jesus knew this man didn’t have to get into the pool to be healed. He knew God created him upright and healthy, and these qualities were his innate spiritual nature now and always. So Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” And so he did. No more excuses, no more being a victim of circumstances, no more pity party.

When we feel the weight of the world is on our shoulders or we feel put upon or victimized, we can do something about our plight. I saw a sign that read, “Do you rise and shine or rise and whine?”
Whining, even when we feel it’s justified, will not help — will not result in healing, progress or resolution. So quite simply, it’s a waste of our time!

We can learn to stop self-pity when it attempts to creep into our thoughts. It may be normal to at first feel sad or sorry for ourselves when things go wrong. But we can immediately turn our sorrow into positive action. We can surround ourselves with things that bring joy and happiness and experience whatever makes us laugh. We can choose thankfulness as our ticket out of self-misery. If need be, we can make a list of all the good that has ever happened in our lives. We can’t feel sorrowful and grateful at the same time!

And Jesus did give us instruction on how to treat those that mistreat us when he said, “Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person…” (Matthew 5:44)

A wounded ego and unapplauded pride is not the best in me or you. We can leave behind anything and everything that is holding us back or keeping us down. And we can all rise and shine to a new day of joy, peace of mind, and infinite possibilities!

A marriage saved from the green-eyed monster

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

In my early married days, I often struggled with bouts of extreme sadness and anger as well as paranoia and fear. Unbeknownst to my dear husband — and myself, actually — I was suffering from a bite by the green-eyed monster. Jealousy is a nasty beast. And its wounds, if left undetected and untreated, can devastate a relationship. I was yet to learn that jealousy is not the same as love. Sometimes people equate feeling jealous about someone with loving them. I’m here to tell you that jealousy is not love but rather the fear of losing love.

Sadly, jealousy is all too familiar in human relationships. In fact, it has been reported wherever researchers have looked, in every culture, taking a variety of forms. Indeed, jealousy is an enduring topic of interest for scientists, songwriters, romance novelists and theologians.

Of the human emotions, sociologists say jealousy is one of the most powerful and painful. And it is deadly. Statistical studies rank jealousy as the third most common motive for murder. Jealousy certainly seemed to be Cain’s motivation for killing his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). It seemed to be what impelled Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (Genesis, Chapter 37). And it probably was part of the reason the Pharisees hated Jesus.

But — is jealousy normal, natural and unavoidable?

Without a doubt, it is impossible to think clearly when you are jealous. Truth gets distorted, reason becomes clouded and emotion turns irrational.

For me, jealousy could have been defined as the emotional reaction to a scenario in my mind that was not true. I often perceived situations and people as threats. I also had a deep fear of loss or betrayal, although this belief was completely unfounded. While I sensed my insecurities were without basis, I didn’t know how to make a change.

Overcoming jealousy is like changing any emotional reaction or behavior. It begins with awareness.

In my search for help, I read Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on marriage and wedlock. The first statement that grabbed my attention was “Jealousy is the grave of the affections.” She wrote of the “narrowness and jealousy” that seeks to confine a wife or a husband. And she emphasized that home “should be the centre, though not the boundary, of the affections.”

I was beginning to understand that living by the “Golden Rule” was imperative in marriage, as in all walks of life. As Jesus put it, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). I certainly would not have liked my husband restricting my time spent with my friends or family. And I would not have liked being made to feel guilty about the time I did spend. But my husband was never the one who did these things — only me.

I knew my husband loved me and wanted me to be happy. He endeavored to do whatever he could to make me happy. He was a good friend to his many friends and a faithful and loving son to his parents. Should such admirable qualities and actions be punished by his wife?

So where did my unwarranted fear of losing his love come from?

It seems I needed to learn more about God’s infinite and unconditional love for me. And I needed to become more aware of my spiritual identity as the woman God created — a whole-souled woman who, too, loves unconditionally.

Such a woman knows well the spiritual strength and fortitude her Father endowed her with. And she knows well how to live love, as Paul defined in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. This love “cares more for others than for herself; doesn’t want what it doesn’t have; doesn’t have a swelled head; isn’t always ‘me’ first; doesn’t keep score of the mistakes of others; doesn’t revel when others grovel; always looks for the best; never looks back.”

She has great patience and sees and appreciates goodness in everyone. With a congenial temperament, she is not easily agitated. Her love is expansive enough to neutralize any friction. And she is determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant.

It turns out God had given me the antidote for bites from the green-eyed monster. It was my whole-souled womanhood. Putting these qualities into practice in my marriage healed my jealousy wounds and built a permanent and powerful defense, enabling me to ward off any future approaches of this nasty beast. And my romance and marriage with my husband is 28 years strong in love.

So you had a bad day

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

So you had a bad day. Do you really want to relive it by replaying the details of each bad scene over and over again in your head? I realize that some bad days seem tough to leave behind us. Maybe we’re consumed with regrets, filled with frustrations, battered with self-condemnation or overwhelmed with depression.

What can we do to cut through the mire of agony that is bringing us down? Is there an antidote for bad days?

I guess there are many types of bad days. But perhaps the most common is when all that makes up our own unique minutiae goes wrong. You know . . . the day-to-day details — the very particulars that form much of our day.

When I was a teacher aide during college, I was introduced to a book that I was to read to a class of second graders. Little did I know that it would become a book that would change forever how I looked at my life!

So yes, there is an antidote for bad days, and its secret is tucked away in a children’s book. Actually, when I made the discovery, I wasn’t surprised that a children’s book could hold such valuable and insightful knowledge. Just look at children. They seem to be experts at falling down and jumping right back up again, perhaps after brushing the dirt off their pants first. Then they immediately continue doing what they were doing before they fell. Isn’t this called resilience?

What’s the name of this miracle book, you ask? None other than “Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” written by Judith Viorst.

As the story develops, Alexander has one of those bad days most of us can relate to. Shortly after his morning begins, he concludes, “I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” You might reach this same conclusion, too, if you woke up with gum in your hair, tripped on a skateboard as you got out of bed, and dropped the sweater you were planning to wear that day in the sink while the water was running. Even before he had breakfast, he could predict what his day was going to be like.

And his day did seem to go from bad to worse. Nothing was to go poor Alexander’s way. From getting smashed in the middle seat of the car, discovering his lunch sack was dessertless, being told by the dentist he had a cavity, being forced to own stripeless sneakers, having lima beans for dinner, witnessing kissing on television, being made to sleep in railroad-train pajamas and so much more. Alexander’s day got so bad that several times he considered moving to Australia.

However, by the day’s end, Alexander reached a simple conclusion that revealed the secret to overcoming bad days. He said, “My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia.” You get the feeling he turned over and went peacefully to sleep, leaving his bad day far behind him.

So I concluded the key to overcoming bad days is found in a childlike, resilient attitude. And guess what? You and I have it. In fact, it’s God-given. God lovingly provides his dear children with everything they need to meet and master whatever is demanded of them.

Yes, God’s children are buoyant, adaptable, adjustable, and flexible. This makes us able to recover strength, spirits and good humor quickly. If we let something get us down, we can bounce back into shape promptly.

Christ Jesus promised us he would be with us always. I’ve always trusted that meant the presence of the healing Christ power would indeed always be with us when we were in need. So, when we fall into the temptation of a burdensome, bad day, we have this promise from Christ Jesus: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And the ever-present healing power of Christ indeed makes all burdens light.

We are created spiritually lighthearted. And this gives us dominion over all the “earthiness” of life — which includes all the minutiae of our days.

Maintaining a spiritually lighthearted, resilient attitude is possible and powerful. I’ve been testing its potency since my discovery of Alexander’s book over 25 years ago. This state of mind can calmly cut through, slice through and walk through any bad day that confronts us.

Jesus didn’t allow any energy leaks

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

None of us want to waste the precious times of our life. But I suspect we’ve probably all been guilty of doing just that. Oh, how much time I’ve wasted being mad, unhappy, depressed, frustrated, indecisive, complaining, feeling discouraged, overwhelmed!

So, how do we combat these enemies to our joy, peace, progress and success?

I’ve never forgotten an idea a friend shared with me several years ago. The phrase came from a book about Jesus and management — I never knew the title. But the phrase was, “Jesus didn’t allow any energy leaks.”

Nothing could deter him, distract him or stop him from doing his work. He had a clear sense of his mission and his purpose. He was steadfast and centered. But he wasn’t willful or headstrong. Since his work involved obediently following God’s direction, he had to remain ever prayerful and listening for His next instructions.

He maintained his spiritual energy, never allowing any “leaks” that would pull his thought and attention away from his focus. This kept him in a state of readiness, flexibility, openness and willingness.

My friend offered this idea about Jesus, trying to help me get through what seemed like a day of impossible roadblocks at work. It was a day of time constraints, confusion, unclear communication, and backtracking. Ever experience a day like that?

I was just about ready to write the day off as hopeless. At the peak of my frustration, this idea of Jesus not allowing any energy leaks was compelling. I felt like I was running on low fuel, so the thought of being able to stop energy leaks was very desirable.

I considered how the master of the Master Way remained calm and focused on his work when confronted by multitudes with many different needs. Or how he was able to express dominion and confident resolve while doing his work even in the midst of angry and jealous peers.

Deciding perhaps it was possible for me to take the example of Christ Jesus as my problem-solving model, I began a new approach with each calamity that presented itself. This required a response-change on my part — to remain calm regardless of the circumstance. And it worked! With the calming of any would-be anxieties, stress or pressure, came peace, freshness, and new views — spiritual energy. I felt refueled to tackle anything.

With additional challenges — and there were more — solutions came quickly. I resolved to maintain my spiritual poise and not allow any “energy leaks.” What a day! Instead of a day of everything going wrong, much was accomplished and deadlines were reached.

I’ve often thought about the lessons learned that day.

There are many enemies to our joy and peace — sickness, pain, worries, and a myriad of fears. But my spiritual energy lesson has taught me that a calm and spiritually poised response leads to healing and progress. As I’ve been successful at not allowing any energy leaks, I’ve found myself prepared and equipped to handle whatever comes my way.