The idea of relief is exciting. If you’ve become optimistic about the possibility of this series being beneficial, that may tempt you to try to move through the material too quickly. But don’t discount any enthusiasm you may be feeling. That enthusiasm is an indicator of hope and, therefore, a good thing. We want to be a good steward of that hope, so it does not become hope-deferred and make your heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).
In this reflection, we want to answer two questions:
- Pacing Question: What are indicators that you are in a good place and ready to move to the next reflection?
- Preparation Question: How do you prepare yourself, put yourself in the best position, to benefit from this series?
If you learned to drive a car with a manual transmission, you remember watching the RPM gauge to indicate that the engine was being stressed too hard for the gear it was in. Similarly, we will consider five indicators that you are moving through this material too quickly.
- Physical Pacing Indicators: It is wise to listen to your body. Jesus recognized that when the body is depleted it negatively impacts our soul (Matthew 26:40-43) and he was compassionate towards this limitation. Two of the best physical indicators are our sleep patterns and appetite. If you notice significant changes in your sleep pattern or appetite – increase, decrease, agitated, upset – take that as a sign to slow down.
- Cognitive Pacing Indicators: When you have a hard time focusing on what you’re reading, take a break. If you have a hard time remembering important content from what you’ve read, allow yourself to reread that article without punishing yourself. Focus and retention are important cognitive indicators regarding how we’re responding to the stress we’re under.
- Emotional Pacing Indicators: Admittedly, we need to tread lightly here. You chose to engage this material because you’re hurting and angry. So, here use the level of agitation you’ve experienced recently as your baseline. If that sense of agitation spikes, give yourself the freedom to pause. Indicators of agitation include how you respond to disruptions or mistakes by others, how quickly being sad defaults to mad, or an inability to have compassionate towards hardships in other’s lives.
- Social Pacing Indicators: We’ll talk about this more later in the series, but isolating is a blinking light on the dashboard of life. Isolation serves as insulation for our emotions. Think of a thermos; it keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. Isolation has the same effect on our emotions; it keeps intense emotions intense and muted emotions subdued.
- Spiritual Pacing Indicators: Arguing with God is a form of prayer. Be encouraged, your prayer life may be better than you thought. But we can tell when we are arguing in hopes of a meaningful response and when we’re arguing just to punish and spite the person we’re talking at. The more your prayer life resembles the latter, the more this indicator is revealing that an adjustment is needed.
This begs a question, “What should I do if an ‘indicator light’ is flashing?” First, don’t freak out. You’re paying attention to these indicators more now, so you can be more intentional in your response to them. Second, give yourself the freedom to take a break. God isn’t rushing you. Don’t rush yourself. Third, if a break doesn’t result in the indicator lights turning off, consider talking with a counselor or mentor. There can be immense benefit to getting outside our own head when processing anger over profound pain.
Now our question changes to, “How can we put ourselves in the best position to prevent our indicator lights from flashing on the journey ahead?” If we know a journey is going to be strenuous, it only makes sense to think through our preparation strategy. We will consider fives ways to wisely prepare for the journey ahead.
- Honor Your Pacing Indicators: If you’re an efficiency-oriented over-achiever, it would be easy to assume that if you ace the preparation strategies, you can render the pacing indicators irrelevant. While tempting and somewhat logical, it is not accurate. Resist the temptation to fall into this mindset.
- Exercise: Most of the pacing indicators come down to managing one thing: stress. Anger with God and grieving profound pain is stressful at a multitude of levels. There are few things more effective at mitigating the effects of stress than cardiovascular exercise. Getting out for a walk, jog, or swim several times per week can do wonders for managing the stress of this journey.
- Focus on Process more than Destination: Don’t let that little voice in your head become the proverbial child in the backseat of the car repeatedly asking, “Are we there yet?” Perpetually comparing where you are to where you want to end up is discouraging. Noticing and savoring each bit of progress you made builds morale to continue your journey.
- Engage in Enjoyable Activities: You may have heard the cinematic proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” There is a therapeutic equivalent, “All growth and no play makes God seem like a demanding tyrant.” Identify healthy things you enjoy (i.e., the outdoors, art, reading, cooking, sports, etc.) and, as you engage them, remind yourself God delights in you enjoying these like a good parent watching a child play with a present.
- Expand Your Tolerance for Quiet and Stillness: Both anger and pain cause us resist quiet and stillness. The echo of what is bad can ring so loud when our mind and body are still. But constant stimulation over-saturates and exhausts us. Begin with just 5 minutes a day and increase as your able. Sit still. Try not to ruminate and let your mind settle; like letting the sediments fall to the bottom of a swirling glass of water sat on the counter. “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) is an invitation to stop wrestling against life and history. Accept that invitation in the increments you are able.
Now you’ve finished this reflection. Rest. Exhale. Don’t rush to your next activity or creating an implementation strategy. If you have identified a couple of things you think will be helpful or a way to prevent you undermining your progress on this journey, savor that and allow yourself to feel encouraged.
Questions for Reflection
- Which of the five pacing indicators do you anticipate being most important for you to keep an eye on?
- Which of the five preparation strategies do you anticipate being the most valuable for your perseverance?
* * * This article is part of a series entitled Anger with God: Grappling with God Amidst Life’s Greatest Pains and Betrayals.