Ann Spangler

Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and speaker.

If I Were a Squirrel

blurred city street lights on a dark night

Squirrels are famously persistent, a trait that often gets them what they want but sometimes gets them killed. They get into trouble when they persist in a strategy that simply doesn’t work. Ever notice how many roadkill victims are squirrels? Perhaps that’s because they have only one strategy for what to do when they are trying to cross the road and encounter oncoming traffic—scurry back to the side of the road they started from.

We look at the squirrel and scoff, wondering why they don’t adopt a more flexible strategy for evading oncoming traffic. As human beings, we realize that we have the cognitive ability to change course as needed. But if this is so, why do we so often return to failed strategies for coping with stress, trying the same unsuccessful solutions over and over with little effect?

Let me give you an example. Say you work with someone who annoys you. Despite your prayers for patience and for her to change, her annoying habits persist. So you redouble your prayers. While prayer is always a great strategy, you may need to add something to it—like taking action. It might, for example, be advisable to speak kindly but directly with your coworker about whatever is causing the difficulty. You might say something like this:

“When you interrupt me, it makes me feel as though what I have to say is unimportant.”

The conversation may be uncomfortable, but it’s likely to yield better results than a strategy that encourages passivity and ends in pique.

Prayer is always good. But prayer that is never accompanied by action may simply be a passive and ineffective way of dealing with problems that are stealing your peace. Ask God today for wisdom in changing your strategies for dealing with stress.

Sleepless Anxiety

An illustration of a girl on a bed, imagining sheep jumping over a fence

My daughter had a habit of falling out of bed when she was a toddler. Fortunately she slept in a bed that was fairly low to the ground, and when she fell, it was onto soft carpet. Still, no sense taking a fall in the middle of the night if you don’t have to. The problem was solved when I found a railing that fit snugly under the mattress, keeping her sound asleep and safely in bed until her “holy rolling” days were over.

Though I’m not sure why, I am also more prone to rolling off the edge at night—not onto the floor, but into thoughts full of doubt and anxiety. Somehow darkness magnifies the troublesome issues that crop up in the daytime. If you’re like me, you may find yourself trying to solve your most nettlesome problems in the middle of the night. I can assure you it’s a strategy that rarely works.

So how can you counter this problem? One thing you can do is simply to remind yourself that night is always a terrible time to solve anything. To reinforce the thought, try conjuring an image of a hamster running endlessly on a wheel. Then promise yourself you’ll deal with the issue that’s bothering you, but not until morning. Write it down if you have to. After that, roll over and go back to sleep.

If sleep still eludes you, try doing what Paul urged the Philippians to do—pray about everything, and thank God for all he has done. Don’t pray anxiously and endlessly; pray simply and with as much faith as you can muster. Then thank God for all that is good in your life, making sure your prayer of thanksgiving is at least as long as your prayer of petition. After you’ve done that, imagine the Father standing at the edge of your bed, placing a guardrail of peace around it to keep you safe.

Morning and Evening

A woman sits on her bed with her Bible open on her lap, and a pink highlighter.

Maybe it was the title of the blog that fascinated me. What woman wouldn’t want to sneak a look at a blog entitled “The Art of Manliness”? In a recent post, Brett and Kate McKay talk about the importance of morning and evening routines for building a successful life. Citing examples from the lives of men like Theodore Roosevelt, William Blake, and John Quincy Adams, they offer models of how men can lead lives of greater significance by paying attention to their daily routines.

“Imagine,” they say, “a string with a series of beads on it. The beads represent your goals, relationships, and priorities. Tip the string this way or that way, and the beads easily slide off and onto the floor. But tie a knot on each end of the string, and the beads stay put. Those knots are your morning and evening routines. They keep the priorities of your life from falling apart and thus help you progress and become a better man.”1

I agree with their philosophy, and I would contend that their advice applies to women as well. I can’t tell you how many times my well-intentioned plans for the day have fallen short, leaving me with a sense of frustration and guilt. At times the shortfall can be attributed to a poor start or a late finish. What do I mean by a poor start? For me it means that I am consuming too much media in the morning—watching or reading the news. Doing so gobbles up my time for prayer and Scripture reading. Late finishes can be blamed on a similar culprit—too much media, either movies, books, or news.

What are your time wasters?

How might your life look if you could carve out sensible, disciplined goals for your morning and evening routines?

If you and I were to put first things first in our routines, we could experience more of the peace that comes from a job well done or a life well lived. Join me this week in thinking about the goals you have for your life and how you might achieve them. Do so prayerfully, asking God to help you shape your day by paying more attention to how you begin and end it.

  1. Brett McKay and Kate McKay, “Bookend Your Day: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines,” The Art of Manliness (blog), September 5, 2011, accessed September 6, 2011, http://artofmanliness.com/2011/09/05/bookend-your-day-the-power-of-morning-and-evening-routines/.

 

Have Some Fun!

a group of people swimming in a lake in the evening

"Adults never have any fun,” proclaimed my oldest daughter with the 100 percent certainty common to teenagers. This time I had to admit she was right, at least when it came to my life. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d really had fun. Was it on my trip to the grocery store or when I was paying bills or taking the dog to the vet or hurrying to meet a writing deadline or rushing to pick up a child from karate class or cooking dinner or meeting with teachers at my children’s schools or shopping for back-to-school clothes or arranging for home care for my elderly mother? Like yours, my days are packed, but not usually with things I love to do. As I reflected on my daughter’s remark, I started wondering if I would even recognize fun if it landed on my doorstep. Had I completely forgotten how to play? I hoped not.

I decided to break out of my routine and do something a little out of the ordinary. Unsure of what to do, I began by making a list of things I had done in the past that were genuinely fun:

  • crabbing
  • shelling
  • snorkeling
  • waterskiing
  • surf fishing
  • swimming in Lake Michigan
  • attending a baseball game
  • playing laser tag
  • shooting pool with friends
  • drift fishing
  • kayaking

Noticing that the most frequent theme threading its way through my fun list was water, I decided to rent a stand-up paddleboard and try my luck on Lake Michigan. Last weekend my children and I shared the board with hilarious results.

Why not consider adding a little fun to your own life? If you can’t remember how to play, try making a list of the most memorable fun you’ve had. Let it spark ideas for the present. Remember, one aspect of shalom is well-being. Perhaps a little burst of play is all that’s needed to put your world back into balance.

 

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