Julie Clinton speaks to approximately fifty thousand women each year all across the country at the Extraordinary Women Conferences.
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When Your Heart is Empty and Your Dreams are Lost
By Julie Clinton
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2014 Julie Clinton
All rights reserved.
Decide to Breathe, Believe, and Bounce Back
Everyone has a fair turn to be as great as he pleases.
"My life is out of control."
I knew from the way she spoke these words, punctuated by her hands held up as if they might never hold anything or anybody again, that she was seriously serious.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Everything!" She went on to give me a potent list of problems:
"My husband divorced me."
"He has taken up with a slut he met in a bar. I didn't even know he went to bars."
"He got half the house and most of our money, and there's not enough for me to buy out the other half of the house or pay my monthly bills."
"He has turned the kids against me."
"He wants to have me committed for mental evaluation. He's the one with the mental problems."
"He wants nothing to do with God or the church or my family or our family."
When she paused to inhale, I said, "Let me give you this one lifeline: you can do something, and here is what it is: you can make a decision right now about how you are going to respond to all of this. You—yes, you—can make a choice with your will about what you are going to do in the next few minutes, the next hour, the rest of today."
She grew quiet and fixed her eyes on mine.
"But ..." she started.
I interjected. "I want you to repeat after me these three words: I can decide."
And then she asked, "But what can I decide? What decisions can I make?"
"There are three main decisions that are totally in your power and under your control." I say this to you as well.
You Are in Charge of Three Main Decisions
There are three main decisions that are totally within your ability to make and then act on.
The Decision to Breathe
We all breathe, of course. We must breathe to live. Scientists tell us we can't continue to exist if we are denied oxygen for more than three to four minutes.
The kind of breathing I'm talking about is not physical. It is emotional, spiritual—it is a breathing of the soul.
Just as He created us to breathe physically, God calls us to breathe on the inside of our being—emotionally and spiritually.
There are two main principles to consider here:
First, you must exhale before you can inhale. Many of us are holding on to negative emotions, reliving negative encounters or negative experiences over and over and over again. We need to let go of them before we can fully embrace new and positive experiences and relationships.
Second, you must have a distinct separation between "letting go" and "taking on." The apostle Paul wrote several passages in the New Testament about this. He told the early Christians there were certain behaviors and attitudes they needed to "put off" so they could "put on" a more Christlike identity (for example, see Ephesians 4:21–24).
We all know about layering when it comes to clothing. Heidi, who wore all the clothes she owned on a trek up a mountain to visit her grandfather, is perhaps the ultimate example of someone layering her wardrobe! Wardrobe layering has one great advantage, which can also be regarded as its major disadvantage: layering causes greater warmth. Dressing in layers is great for a ski trip in the winter. It is terrible for going to the beach (unless you're trying to hide something!).
Layering also adds bulk, even if you're layering very skinny fabrics. Not all layers of clothing are compatible—one type of fabric can cause another type of fabric to bunch or ride up. The result is discomfort!
In emotional terms, layering often occurs when we rehearse a problem or the pain associated with it to the point that we are adding multiple remembrances of the experience to our memory bank. The end result is very often increasing anger (heat) toward a person or group and, along with it, increased bitterness or resentment. The ongoing result is one of inner discomfort—we generally don't like to feel angry, bitter, or resentful. But once those feelings take root in us, we must confront them directly and deal with them forcefully.
The process usually involves a degree of separation—a stepping back or a slight distancing—so we can gain new perspective and have greater clarity about what we are doing and what we must do to be free of all those layers.
The truth is we do need to take off an old garment before we can put on a new garment if we want the new garment to fit sleekly and be comfortable. The same is true for our emotions. We need to shed the old hurt so we are ready to take on a new joy.
I learned many years ago that most animals wounded in the wild seek immediately to go to their lair or den to nurse their wounds and rest. They allow a wound to heal, and that takes a little time. Animals intuitively know that sleep is their best medicine, and sleeping in a safe place is not only therapeutic but welcome.
I'm certainly not advocating that a woman who is wounded take to her bed! That's what some women do to escape the emotional struggles of life, and while it may be helpful for a couple of days, it is never truly therapeutic to withdraw to your bedroom with the shades drawn. If you are sleeping in order to get well from an injury, disease, or trauma, that's one thing. If you are sleeping in order to escape your own reality and future, that's another!
What I am advocating is that you find a place to which you might withdraw for a short period of time in order to gain perspective. This might be a personal retreat or time with friends. It might be a visit to a spa. It might be a few days at a local retreat center or going to a women's conference.
Not long ago I met a woman named Jeanne who told me she periodically goes to a nearby convent for several quiet days of prayer and Bible reading. Jeanne is not of the same religious affiliation as the women who run the convent, but she said, "I am welcomed there as a Christian seeking more of Christ. And that truly is the case. I've gone to the convent to hear from the Lord, to study the Scriptures about a situation I'm facing, or to search my own heart for areas in which I might be harboring an unforgiving or distrustful attitude."
"What kinds of situations have compelled you to go to this place?" I asked.
"One time I went because I knew I needed to make some adjustments in my marriage. I had been blaming my husband for our problems but I secretly knew that I was contributing to them in some way. I went to hear from the Lord about me, not him.
"Another time I went because I felt as if I had hit a brick wall in my job. Everything I was doing seemed to be criticized strongly by people who had for years been giving me affirmation and approval. I needed to distance myself from work and take a new look at what I was doing and why.
"And yet another time I went because I just felt dry. I had heard people talk about wilderness periods in their faith walk and suddenly I knew what they meant. I felt as if my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling and that God was very far away."
"Were you totally alone on these spiritual retreats?"
"Yes," she said. "I went to the chapel once a day in the morning, and I had a simple, quiet breakfast, lunch, and evening tea with the women who lived there. But they didn't intrude on my solitude. I knew they were there if I wanted or needed them, but they weren't hovering over me."
"What happened as a result of your time alone with the Lord?"
She laughed. "Well, I made some very dramatic changes in the way I treated my husband, mostly in the way I prayed for him and began to praise God for him. When it came to my job, I sought a new job—and got one. It has been much more challenging and the new company is both stronger financially and operates in a more professional manner. As for the wilderness time in my faith journey—I walked through that. I learned a great deal about prayer and especially about the offering of thanksgiving and praise. I realized I was all about asking God for things I wanted rather than thanking and praising Him for His provision of all the things I truly needed."
What good results!
"If you could sum up these times in one or two words, what would you say?" I asked.
She replied, "I learned to breathe."
Retreating for a time to breathe is not running from life. Rather, it is running to the Lord! It is running to the One who truly can heal you and restore you inside and out. It is running to the One who takes on your burdens and exchanges them for a life that is truly "free." It is in Christ Jesus that we are to "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
When we exhale our problem to the Lord in confession and prayer, coupled with thanksgiving and praise, we find ourselves much more willing and able to inhale His life-giving Spirit, including an abundance of peace and joy.
The Decision to Believe
You are the only person who truly can decide with certainty what—and in Whom—you will believe. The good news is that nobody can rip these decisions from your mind and heart. What you believe with deep conviction and commitment becomes who you are. Your values and your beliefs are the foundation for all you will say and do in your life. They are ingrained in you in such a way that they become your instinctual responses.
The good news here is also this: if you have adopted a belief or value that you discover is not in line with God's Word, you can change your mind! You can decide to adopt a new belief.
Let me give you a few words of caution:
First, beliefs are meant to be foundational and therefore must be taken very seriously. We are not emotional or spiritual chameleons, changing our minds continually in order to blend in with whatever crowd of people in which we find ourselves. We must take our values and beliefs very seriously. They are at the core of good relationships and of all "good works" that honor God.
Second, not all of us were taught the "right things" as children. I have encountered numerous women who take great joy in what they learn at our women's conferences. A woman named Flo came to me one time and said, "I'm so excited! I have heard things this weekend that I suspected were true, but they were contrary to what my mother and grandmother had told me as a child. I realized this weekend that Mom and Grandmommy had probably been taught wrong by their mothers. They were passing on what they thought was good, but they were not passing on what God's Word says. Now that I know what my heavenly Father thinks and wants, I have a whole new frame of mind. And I feel free to explore more fully what I might do with my life and how I might serve the Lord."
As you consider what you have been taught as a belief or value, line it up against the Word of God. If what you believe doesn't line up with God's Word ... go with the Word of God!
I learned a good lesson about this from a woman named Cherie. She said, "Julie, my mother and father were people who never took any risks, and they didn't want me to take any risks either. They continually told me what I shouldn't undertake as new ventures or pursue as new goals, and they spelled out in vivid detail all the ways I was setting myself up for failure. When I continued to take risks with my dreams and goals, they adopted a slightly new tack—which is actually one they had started out with when I was just a little girl. They began to tell me that I wasn't smart enough, wasn't talented enough, or wasn't of the right social class to be a leader orinnovator. And the sad thing is they almost convinced me they were right."
"What did you do to break out of that?" I asked.
"I decided that I would go to my Bible and learn what God had to say about me!"
"And I learned that God says I am made in His image [Genesis 1:26]. God said He had made me to be the head, not the tail—to be at the top and never at the bottom [Deuteronomy 28:13]. I learned that God was my Creator and He had made me to multiply and have dominion and to take charge of things in order to help create a better world [Genesis 1:28–30]. I learned that I do have amazing talents and abilities that He built into me, and that I am to use those abilities to help others. The more I read God's Word and really studied it, the more my beliefs and values shifted toward what God said about me. The old tapes in my mind of my mother's and father's voices began to fade. God's Word became the strong voice."
How many women grow up with old tapes that are inaccurate! If you believe this is true for you, embark on your own discovery about what God says in His Word. He has plans and dreams for you that are glorious, and He has a one-of-a-kind job for you to fill on this earth. When you discover His ideas and His plans and begin to live them out, your believing will take on a whole new vibrancy.
Third, beliefs should be continually reaffirmed. Once we know the truth and are walking in the highest and best values and beliefs, we must continually remind ourselves of what we believe and in whom we believe. As my friend Angela said one day, "I may not have all the answers, but I know who does have all the answers. And I'm walking through life clinging to His hand!"
There are many ways to reaffirm your values and beliefs, but from my experience, these methods of reaffirmation nearly always take me back to the Word of God. I have heard of women who:
daily recite the Lord's Prayer and use it as an outline to speak to their own hearts and minds about God providing for them, forgiving them, delivering them from evil, and ascending to the throne of their soul where He will have all power and authority and glory.
frequently meditate on and at times even recite classic Christian works, such as the Nicene Creed or Apostles' Creed. These ancient statements have been recited routinely by Christians for nearly two thousand years and can really help anchor personal faith. They proclaim the nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. They allow a person to give voice to what she believes about her eternal salvation and about her future in the Lord.
have developed a set of personal "verses to live by." These are verses they have committed to memory, and also ones they have written on small note cards that they carry with them. They have written verses that are especially meaningful to them as reminders of God's presence with them and about what God desires—and requires—of them as His faithful followers.
One of the most powerful ways of reaffirming your beliefs and values is this: choose to read a portion of God's Word every day. I recommend a selection of verses—some from the book of Proverbs, some from the Psalms, and some from the Gospels or other New Testament books. As you read, ask the Lord to speak to you through His Word. When you come across a verse that seems especially pertinent to what you are going through or what you are facing in your near future, stop and voice it aloud as a little prayer: "Lord, this is for me. Thank You for showing me this. Help me to remember it and live it out!"
You may want to underline that verse in your Bible or put a date next to it. You may want to write it out as your Bible truth for the day and stick it in your purse so you can look at it again during the day. You can definitely make it a prayer throughout the day: "Lord, You said ... I believe. Let it come to pass!"
One of my favorite promises in all of Scripture is Isaiah 41:10:
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous
On crazy days, I find myself whispering, "Lord, you said that you are always with me. You commanded me not to fear. God, you promised to strengthen and help me. To uphold me. I believe. Let it come to pass!"
A woman once commented to me, "All this sounds like brainwashing."
I readily agreed! Yes, I do believe we need to wash our brains. I wash my hands and face, brush my teeth, wash my hair, put my clothes in the laundry, wash the dishes. Why not wash my mind? In fact, the Bible tells me that Christ "gave himself up for [the church] to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word" (Ephesians 5:25–26).
I continued, "Bad brainwashing is when someone attempts to control your thinking to do what that person says. Good brainwashing is when you invite the Lord to instruct and guide your thinking. Good brainwashing is submitting your own brain to God's Word so the Lord might cleanse the thoughts of your heart through the inspiration of His Spirit."
I choose to be washed anew every day by the Word of God.
Excerpted from Bounce Back by Julie Clinton. Copyright © 2014 Julie Clinton. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
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