WHEN LIFE FEELS OUT OF CONTROL

What do you do when you feel like you’ve lost control of your life?

Sometimes life feels like jumbled wires
Sometimes life feels like jumbled wires

Everybody feels that way at one point or another, and most of us will feel that way periodically throughout our lifetime.  The feeling is so nebulous that it is almost impossible to define, but you know it when it happens.  Things that once seemed certain no longer seem as certain, relationships that were rock solid are suddenly muddy or fragile, things that used to make sense don’t any more, and we feel helpless to do anything about it.  Please note, I am not talking about clinical depression, mood disorders, or other medically treatable mental illnesses.  I am referring to the normal feelings we all have sometimes–that feeling that things are spiraling out of our grasp.

Although there is no magical elixir, my experiences have taught me there are some things to help us get through the muddle, and I offer them here as suggestions.

1.  It is important that when we feel this type of identity crisis or confusion, that we do not make big decisions.  Don’t quit your job because it feels hopeless, or divorce your spouse because you think you don’t love her/him anymore, or move just because you think a change of venue will help.  These big decisions might feel right for a little while, but they are long term solutions for short term problems.  Its a bit like going to Costco when all you really need is just one new toothbrush.

2.  Getting back to your roots, whatever your roots may be, is often helpful.  Visit your family, make a phone call to a loved one, or reread a familiar book.  For me, my roots are my wife and two daughters.  Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts are such an important part of me that spending time with them often puts me back in balance.

3.  Sometimes that out-of-control feeling we have is a spiritual warning sign.  That is why one way to help is by engaging in spiritual activities.  For me, as a Christ-follower, this means reading the scriptures–long passages of scripture like the Psalms or all the gospels and prayer.  Although I don’t use one, many people are helped by a prayer journal.  God made us as spiritual beings as well as physical, and a feeling of lack of control can be an indicator that our spirit is out of whack.

4.  It might be that our feelings of anxiety or confusion are because we’re not thriving, but we can’t see how to fix it.  This is when it is often helpful to talk to someone smarter, more mature (not necessarily older, just more mature) and trustworthy.  Although talking to your spouse or a healthcare professional like a counselor might help, that is not what who I’m talking about here.  I mean a mentor, a guide, someone you look up to.

5.  Focus sometimes is the solution.  Earlier this year I was feeling mildly out-of-place in my writing schedule.  There were four different things that I was working on all at once.  The result was I felt lost and behind schedule in all four of them.  What I needed to do was focus on one with my primary energy, and let the others wait their turn.  This turned out to be a tremendously helpful decision.

6.  But sometimes, the solution is not to focus, but to unfocus.  Instead of buckling down on one project, what we need is some distance.  Withdrawing for a little while, like a weekend, or a week, will often re-energize the soul.  I know this is hard to do, especially if you have young children and/or work full-time but it might be worth it in the long term to take some leave, find a friend to watch the kids, and get away to a cabin, a tent, or a  luxury resort for four or five days.  Time alone can give us insight into who we are, which then gives us inner strength to carry on with the things that matter.

I am certain there are other things that can help us in these times when life is flapping around us like newspaper in a tornado, but these are some strategies I have found helpful.

images from dreamstime.com

JACKIE CHAN TAUGHT ME SOMETHING

Last night the Greenbeans settled in to watch a family film after a long but satisfying day of ministry through our church.  We seriously pondered watching Elf.  Even though I’m not a big Will Ferrell fan Elf is still one of the funniest movies around.  I like to give all the credit for that to Bob Newhart.  We decided to save Elf for later in the holiday season.  We might get desperate if we get snowed in again during the 2 week Christmas break like we did a couple of years ago.  In the end we settled on an On-Demand film and we picked the reboot of The Karate Kid.

Overall it is very good film.  It is nowhere near as good as the original and I missed Pat Morita.  Nevertheless, I was won over by Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han.  Jaden Smith also turned in a very strong performance.  He was truly born for Hollywood and he has an ease and comfort on film that is apparent (or should I say, a couple of parents.)  The choice to move the film to China was brilliant, although I would have liked a few more cultural insertions rather than the obligatory Great Wall scene or the Forbidden City.  I don’t know what else, but having never been to China I suspect there is more going on there.  It would be like filming a movie in America and making sure a shot was filmed at the Grand Canyon and the White House, as if Americans go there everyday. 

For some reason I think the movie would have been a bit funnier had there been a cameo of Owen Wilson somewhere.

I digress.  What I really want to address is the greatest line I’ve heard in anything in a long time.  The main character, Dre, is having a hard time staying in the moment with his Kung Fu lessons.  Mr. Han says “focus” and the kid says “I am focused.”  Then Mr. Miyagi, oops, I mean Mr. Han (played by Jackie Chan) says to the kid, “Your focus needs more focus.”

Your FOCUS needs more focus.

Your focus needs more FOCUS.

Immediately my mind leapt to Christmas.  This is the time of year where we tend to build everything around the season.  In a very real and measurable way we, as a culture and as individuals, are very focused on Christmas.  Christmas gifts, Christmas cards, Christmas trees, Christmas cookies, Christmas decorations, Christmas carols, Christmas books, Christmas movies, Christmas parties and the list goes on and on.  We are clearly focused.

But, sadly, our focus needs more focus.

In our age of digital cameras which automatically focus for us (and poorly I might say) many people don’t remember real cameras.  On those old cameras the photographer had to make adjustments to the lens in order to focus.  With those old cameras the whole image might be in the frame, but it might be blurry and indistinct.  Only when the lens was adjusted, when it was focused, did the shot become crystal clear with distinct lines and images.

If we could tweak it just a bit I think our Christmas focus could be focused a little bit more.  If we turn the right knob we just might see Jesus and what he means in our still frame called Christmas. 

Jackie Chan was right. 

My focus needs more focus.