The Brain Benefits of Boredom

 

I sit on the lounge, staring out the window, fighting the urge to not pick up my phone again. I’ve been on holidays for less than a week, and I find myself thinking…”I’m bored”. This is a strange sensation. It feels oddly familiar but simultaneously foreign, like a sense of deja vu felt upon returning to a place I haven’t visited since childhood. I can identify that I’m bored, but I don’t know what to do with it.

At a loss, I succumb to the urge to pick up my phone and mindlessly scroll through the newsfeeds that are designed to keep my attention endlessly captured. I gain nothing of any value from my scrolling, just more celebrity gossip that I don’t really care about and memes that make me laugh for a brief moment. I’ll share them with friends so they can laugh for a second too, temporarily escaping from their own blackhole of boredom-avoidance. At the end of the day, all I’ve achieved is avoiding boredom. And that does feel like an achievement…but is it, really?

A few days ago while working in the garden, I listened to a podcast by Ted Radio Hour on attention. It included an interview with Manoush Zomorodi, author of the book Bored and Brilliant. She talks about how we don’t experience boredom anymore because we are constantly filling our minds with stimulation. We avoid boredom at all costs, having learnt that boredom is a bad thing. Yet research into boredom shows the opposite – it’s when we are bored that our brains are active in really important ways.

Zomorodi says: “It turns out that when you get bored, you ignite a network in your brain called the “default mode.” When we are functioning on autopilot, “that is when our brain gets really busy”. Through constantly filling out minds with stimulation, we miss out on important cognitive processing. That processing includes problem solving, making links between seemingly disconnected ideas and what is called “autobiographical planning” – looking over our lives, setting goals and determining how to achieve them.

So, boredom is actually a good thing. Why is it then that we have become so hardwired to jump to our phones whenever we feel the creep of boredom? Why do I constantly find myself pulling out my phone when I’m on public transport, instead of just people-watching or enjoying the view? Why can’t I sit still anymore when watching a movie at home, but feel the need to do something else – scroll through Pinterest, do a crossword or attempt a 1000 piece puzzle?

Part of the problem is we’ve believed the idea that multitasking is a sign of intellectual prowess, and the technology we use is designed to stimulate that belief. Neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin explains that: “every time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain to accomplish that. So if you’re attempting to multitask…you’re not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn’t work that way. Instead, you’re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go.”

We fill our moments with constant stimulation and activity because we’ve programmed our brains to rapidly shift from one thing to another. We pick up our phones hundreds of times each day, thus constantly shifting our attention away from the tasks we need to perform. It becomes habitual – we don’t even think about it, it’s just automatic. We scroll endlessly through Facebook because its precisely designed to make us do exactly that. Google designer Tristan Harris said: “If I’m Facebook or I’m Netflix or Snapchat, I have literally a thousand engineers whose job is to get more attention from you. I’m very good at this, and I don’t want you to ever stop.”

This may sound like some cunning conspiracy, but really, its just feeding into our own habitual behaviour. If we didn’t have social media, we’d find other ways to stimulate our minds. When I logged out of social media for two months last year, I found myself seeking to fill the void with other things. I was definitely more productive, but I found it difficult to deal with the emotions that I normally suppressed (with constant stimulation) and still tried to escape from boredom in any way possible.

So, if you’ve managed to read this far (and haven’t gotten distracted by something else), is there a solution? Manoush Zomorodi ran a project (called ‘Bored and Brilliant’) to see if people could change the cycle of habitual phone-checking out of boredom, and therefore be more productive and creative. One participant, Tina, reported prior to the project spending an average of 150 and 200 minutes on her phone per day. She said: “it’s really concerning, because that’s so much time that I could have spent doing something more productive, more creative, more towards myself, because when I’m on my phone, I’m not doing anything important.” 

At the end of the week-long project, of 20,000 participants, 90% cut down on their phone use and 70% said they had more time to think. Overall, participants said their sleep and happiness improved, and many reported feeling emotions that they didn’t recognise. If we’re always on our phones, we’re never processing how we feel or allowing our brains the space to think! We are less creative and less equipped to solve life’s problems.

Let’s spend less time multitasking, constantly checking our phones to escape boredom, and instead focus on what is right in front of us. I don’t think anyone would advocate for staring at a wall doing nothing all day (unless you’ve really got a thing for walls). Rather, we need to start putting our phones down and picking up a book, or going outside for a walk, or actually having a conversation with another human being using our mouths and not our swift-typing fingers.

For me, I find myself most relaxed when my phone is away and I’m out in the garden planting flowers, or at the gym doing laps in the pool, or kayaking along a beautiful stretch of river, or just sitting in a quite place praying. I hate that I am so drawn to wasting time on social media, and struggle so much to stay focused on one task at a time. We all have the power to change our behaviour, and we need to. Our brains (and our relationships!) will benefit from it in wonderful ways.


Discover more:

Check out Manoush Zomorodi’s TedTalk here.

The TedRadioHour podcast on attention (which covers much more than what I’ve written about) – listen here.

Read more about the benefits of boredom here.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Reflecting on the year that was: Lessons learnt in 2017

Callala Bay, NSW / Canon EOS600D

Twenty seventeen has been a year of triumph and of failure, a year of learning to take risks and make hard decisions, a year of great highs and devastating lows. Reflecting on the year that was, I have learnt many things, but four lessons stand out most. I am still learning and growing and making many mistakes along the way, but I am thankful for the life that I have, and the God who has made it all possible.

It’s OK to say ‘NO’…

I’ve never been very good at saying ‘no’. I struggle with wanting to be available for everyone, all the time, yet not having the energy to sustain such a lifestyle. Part of this struggle is the classic FOMO (fear of missing out) on fun and potentially life-changing experiences. Yet there is also guilt accompanied with saying ‘no’ – even if that guilt is unfounded. This past year I’ve been learning that it is OK to say no from the beginning when an opportunity arises than to have to pull out at the last minute. While people may be disappointed that you turn them down with plenty of time to spare, they will be far more disappointed if you do not give them significant notice.

Part of learning to say no is recognising your limitations and may involve realigning your expectations of yourself. We have not all been given the same capacity, and life circumstances may alter your capacity to be present. For me, fluctuating health means that my capacity is fluid, and what I can do in one season may be different in another. This year I had to take a break from a ministry I loved doing – the highlight of my week – because my health and life circumstances meant that I did not have the energy to serve effectively. This was hard and I still feel a sense of loss, but it has given me the freedom to engage in a different form of ministry which better suits my capacity.

Furthermore, I have learnt that we can only control our own expectations, and fearing others’ expectations is a burden that doesn’t need to be carried. True friends love you and accept you as you are, and will be understanding when you have to say no to their plans. People who put pressure on you, or who unfairly judge you as lazy or unreliable, perhaps aren’t true friends after all. It’s important that we make it as clear as possible to people in our daily life what we can and can’t do, and why – and to not be ashamed of the capacity we have, however limited it may be.

People will be critical of what they don’t understand

We are creatures of habit and order. Part of this is our biological design – our bodies and minds function according to pattern, and when they don’t there is disease and abnormality. Children learn and develop in similar ways – with a degree of individual difference – and so we are wired to like what we like and dislike what we don’t understand. This is evident across the spectrum of human behaviour, and is fascinating to observe in our own lives and the lives of others. Yet, it also has negative effects on our relationships, and can lead to discord and, at an extreme, discrimination and injustice.

In the past I have really struggled with people being critical of aspects of my life (and the lives of loved ones) that they don’t understand. When I was younger I had kids come up to me in playgrounds and ask me why my sister – who has Down Syndrome – looked “funny”. When I developed chronic fatigue in high school, I lost friends who didn’t understand why I was sick all the time and couldn’t come to parties. I have friends now who, though I know they don’t mean to be hurtful, regularly make jokes about my diet. Working as a teacher’s aide I see kids constantly teasing each other for things that are beyond their control, and shunning those who they perceive to be ‘different’.

While these are all more serious examples, it is sad when people are critical of good, honourable things that they don’t understand – or are different to how things are “always done”. This year a group of three friends and I started up a bible study because we were, for various reasons, unable to attend the established bible studies for our church service. While some were encouraging, many of our peers were critical (though well-intended) of what we were doing – purely because it wasn’t like other bible studies. We didn’t have a designated ‘leader’, but used books written by Bible scholars that required us to do the studies ourselves during the week and come prepared to have an in-depth discussion.

Our bible study has been the highlight of my year, and has led to huge spiritual growth in all of us. We are four women simply meeting together to read and study God’s word, apply it to our lives, keep each other accountable and pray with and for each other. We took a situation that was beyond our control, and chose to not give up meeting together, but to do something different that met our needs. This is just a small example, but through it I have learnt that it is important to persevere with what is good even when people unfairly judge, and for myself – to try to be more accepting of what I don’t understand.

Failure enables you to learn and grow

As a high achiever and chronic people-pleaser, I have always been afraid of failure. My expectations of myself in the academic world, as well as in my relationships, have always been to strive for perfection – which is not healthy, as perfection is impossible. I recognise that I am sinful and broken, and no matter how hard I try, I will always make mistakes and disappoint people. Yet despite this knowledge, I regularly struggle with perfectionism and am never fully satisfied with my achievements, no matter how great.

Early this year, for the first time in my life, I failed an assessment. I was not alone, as my mark was still higher than over half the course, despite being below 50%. Needless to say, I was devastated, and couldn’t believe that the result was real. This may seem like an over-reaction, and in hindsight I can see that it was, but my confidence was crushed. I felt physically sick for days and couldn’t sleep properly due to anxiety. I had worked so hard, and yet my performance didn’t reflect this. My reaction was a combination of putting too much pressure on myself to perform to an unreachable standard, as well as a lifelong battle with placing my identity in my achievements instead of in God.

Ironically, failing that assessment was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. Instead of giving up – which is what I felt like doing – it drove me to work harder and practice until I truly understood the content I’d stumbled over. In the past I would have adopted a fixed mindset and assumed that because I’d failed, that meant I was a failure and would never achieve anything again. Instead, failure taught me to adopt a growth mindset, to see the result as not defining my whole person, to strive after challenge and learn from my mistakes. I’m still learning, but I’m finding that when my performance/behaviour doesn’t meet my expectations, instead of falling apart, I work out how to do better next time. When I got my final results for the semester, I was more excited by my mark for that subject than the subjects I got high distinctions in – because I struggled and overcame.

You are where you are meant to be

Part of our human nature is the pull to compare our lives to the lives of others. As I approach my mid-twenties, I find it hard to not feel inadequate when I see friends my age reaching life milestones – graduating university, obtaining full time work, buying property, adventuring around the world and even getting married and having kids. I worry that I am not achieving these milestones in the same timeline too – and wonder if I am doing life right. Ironically, as I share these worries with friends, I find they too share my worries – even if they have achieved the life milestones I’m comparing myself to!

The reality is, we’re never satisfied with what we have, as there is always something more to obtain. Other people will place their expectations on you; the number of recently married friends I have talked to who are constantly asked when they’ll have kids proves this point. We need to learn to be content with what we have, and trust that the timeline of our life is exactly what it is meant to be. There is no perfect age to graduate, no perfect age to get married, no perfect age to buy a house. Our unique life circumstances may mean that certain milestones take longer to achieve than others, or maybe are never achieved, and that is totally OK. Comparison only ever leads to discontentment.

As a Christian, I find huge comfort in knowing that my life is not a series of chance events, but has been designed and ordained by a loving, wise God who has greater purposes than I can imagine for myself. I know that the purpose of my life is not to graduate uni or to travel around the world or to get married and live in a nice house. The purpose of my life is to enjoy God and glorify him, forever. He has given me everything I need to live a life of godliness right now, and has promised that my future is secure in Christ. So instead of looking at others, and feeling that my life is insignificant in comparison, I can look to God and know that everything that happens in my life – whether good or bad – has eternal significance.

Goodbye 2017…hello 2018!


Learning to rest well, productively

Photo captured in Minamurra, NSW / Canon EOS 600D.

Rest is hard. If you’re anything like me, rest is so often accompanied by guilt. We live in a world that tells us our lives are all about experience and productivity and success. Rest doesn’t fit well into that equation. We can’t stop, we won’t stop, for we fear that if we do stop, we will miss out – on the opportunity, the experience, the acclaim. So we feel guilty when we take a moment for ourselves, feeling we aren’t using our time productively. Or we play the comparison game, scrolling through our newsfeeds to find evidence of others’ busy, exciting lives. We feel inadequate, so we rush to look like we are busy too, even though internally we groan at the thought of going out because we are burnt out.

A hard lesson I have had to learn through years of struggling with chronic illness is that rest is vital for a healthy life. Before I developed CFS, I never stopped. There is a cliche that adolescents are lazy, but when you’re a high achiever, laziness isn’t an option. Every spare moment of my early teenage life was filled with activity. When I wasn’t at school, I was at lessons for multiple musical instruments, or at orchestra practise, or at gymnastics training, or swimming, running, cycling…not to mention church commitments. I never stopped, and I liked it that way. I felt guilty for watching TV, so I read books or played instruments instead. No one told me that it was ok to rest, that I didn’t have to always be doing something…until my body stopped working and I couldn’t do anything anymore.

To this day I still find rest hard, buying into the idea that if I’m not out doing something then I’m not really living life properly. Part of this is due to a sense of loss from the years where sickness stole my capacity to do most of the things I loved. I fight against the thought that I have to make up for years of forced inactivity, as well as the perception of others that I am limited due to illness. I’m learning though, one day at a time, that it’s possible to be productive and still rest well. Finding a balance between making the most of the energy I do have, and maintaining that energy through intentional rest, has become a survival tactic for me. I’ve learnt that I do life and relationships better when I am willing to say no when I need to stop, that sometimes it is more loving to take time for myself than to push and exhaust my body further.

What does productive rest look like? Here are some things I’ve found helpful:

Writing lists and setting goals

It’s hard to keep track of life well without writing things down. I find that my memory gets pretty hazy when I’m busy, and I often don’t realise how much I’ve been doing until I crash. Keeping a calendar and diary where I record the events/appointments/activities I am doing throughout the week helps me to see when I haven’t taken time to rest. I find it helpful to have one on my phone (Google Calendar) to carry around with me as well as a paper version at home that I update every couple of days.

I try to designate one or two rest days each week where I keep my activity to a minimum. I’m not very good at being idle though; unless I’m super unwell, you won’t find me bingeing shows on Netflix. On my rest days, I find it helpful to write out a list of small goals I’d like to achieve, including activities as simple as ‘get dressed’ and ‘make lunch’. One of the keys to rest is finding relaxing activities you love that don’t feel like work. My list today included: ‘write a blog post’, ‘re-pot the succulent’ and ‘play piano’, among other things. Rest doesn’t mean you can’t be productive, and there is something immensely satisfying in looking back over your day and seeing goals you’ve achieved and enjoyed.

Prioritising your inner circle

We only have a limited number of hours in the day, and days in the week, to see people. While it’s quite normal to have 1000+ Facebook friends, the reality is our social circles – the people we see and interact with in life – likely ranges between 100-200 people. Our inner circle – the people we are closest to among family and friends – are the ones who most impact our physical and mental health. Not everyone is going to be in our inner circle – we just can’t maintain that many deep relationships! It’s important to establish who is in our inner circle (think: who can I depend on? who knows me best? who invests equally in me?), and prioritise spending time with them first.

That does not mean you only have 5 close friends and refuse to spend time with anyone else. Some of my dearest friends I only see a few times a year due to where we live, and other good friends I see every week. Every relationship is unique and requires different levels of time and commitment. It’s important to learn that you cannot invest equally in everyone, and it’s ok to not be everyone’s best friend. It’s also ok to let go of toxic friendships and maintain boundaries in how much you share with people you are not as close to. In order to rest well, every moment of your spare time can’t be filled up with social engagements. This is a lesson I’m still learning (fighting my inner FOMO), but I’ve found I can be a much better friend when I am not exhausted from seeing too many people.

Having realistic expectations

Each of us has a different capacity in life, and learning how your body and mind function takes time. I need to regularly adjust my expectations of myself in reference to my physical and mental health which fluctuate seasonally. I have days where I can walk across the city, go on bushwalks, spend hours writing an essay or stay out past midnight at a party. There are other days where simply getting out of bed is a huge achievement, where getting dressed and putting food into my body consumes all my energy. Learning to accept this difference, and to plan life accordingly, has helped me to appreciate the days when I need to rest.

Being social beings, it’s impossible not to compare ourselves to others. When I see my friends working full time and filling their weekends with social events and leisure, I struggle not to feel inadequate. Recognising that your capacity is not the same as others’, and setting (and ACCEPTING) your expectations of yourself, helps you to balance life and rest more effectively. Learning to say no to people – and to be OK with that – can be hard, but ultimately gives you the freedom to enjoy life more. Articulating to others that you cannot meet their (unrealistic) expectations is difficult, but true friends will accept you as you are and not push you beyond your limits.

Acknowledging we were made to rest

Biologically, we are beings who need rest. The fact that a third of our lives are spent sleeping makes this clear. In rest and sleep, our bodies heal and grow and renew. We cannot work 24/7, because our bodies – especially our brains – require us to stop. A life without proper rest leads to a greater susceptibility to illness, causes imbalance in our circadian rhythm (our internal body clock that manages sleep), decreases our attention and memory performance and can negatively impact mental health. Paradoxically, in order to work and function well we NEED to rest.

As a Christian, I recognise that rest was part of God’s design in creation – after the work of creating, God himself rested (see see Genesis 2:1-3). This pattern of work and rest is seen throughout the Bible, ultimately pointing to Jesus. The gospel writers take care to note that Jesus took time out from ministry to pray and rest, reflecting God’s pattern for creation (eg: Mark 4:38). Ultimately, Jesus death and resurrection are the means by which we ourselves can enter God’s rest – eternal life in His presence (see Hebrews 4:9-11, 10:12). The work and rest we experience now are preparing us for God’s glorious rest. We are also promised rest now, in Jesus, who says:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
~ Matthew 11:28-30


 

Embracing the silence: Not another social media hate article

STANWELL (1 of 1)-21

Social media is deeply entwined in our twenty-first century lives. Everyone is connected, all the time. There is the expectation of always being available to communicate, and the impulse to publish one’s daily activity for a larger audience to see. We invite people into the intimate moments of our existence through carefully edited images, words and video. We tag each other in the memes that pop up in our bottomless newsfeeds and it makes us feel connected.

There are too many articles circulating the internet warning of how social media is dangerous, that we are addicted to our screens and damaging our relationships. I think there is some truth behind these claims, but I’m not sure anymore that social media is really to blame. Social media is just an innovative tool for communicating creatively; it is how we choose to use it that can be harmful. Maybe the solution isn’t to boycott social media entirely, but rather, to learn to use it – and take time away from it – more sustainably.

People have been ‘detoxing’ from social media – going ‘feed free’ – for years. The entry ‘digital detox’ is even in the (online) dictionary:

digital detox (noun)

  1. ‘a period during which a person refrains from using digital or electronic devices, as to avoid distractions or make time for other activities’.

It seems an inherent part of human nature that we can turn good things into addictions – poisonous substances that we need to remove (‘detox’) from our lives. However, the old saying goes, “all good things in moderation”. Rather than raging against the machine, perhaps balance is what is needed. Social media is part of our lives – but it isn’t as essential as we have come to believe, and time away can be a very good thing.

I spent the previous two months away from social media. If I’m being honest this decision wasn’t motivated by some noble desire to ‘rediscover’ my identity and purpose in life away from the time-sucking vortex of my newsfeeds. I was just a desperate uni student wanting to cut off the main source of my procrastination (I’m looking at you, Relatable Psych Memes). I’d tried numerous apps to limit my screen time, but as assignments piled up and my stress levels skyrocketed, going cold turkey was my only salvation.

I will not muse existential or claim to have discovered the key to healthy living. For me, being cut off from social media wasn’t the door to enlightenment. I was confronted by the silence – the deep, overwhelming vortex of boredom and an anxious mind. I couldn’t just pick up my phone and scroll to alleviate my restless cognitions; my passwords had been changed by a trusted confidante. It was just me, my thoughts and my fidgeting limbs – a nightmarish combination. My discomfort with being screen-free really just highlighted for me how greatly I needed to break away and face reality.

Eventually I began to find solace in the silence. I used the time I’d previously spent attached to my phone to actually be productive. I read 21 books (compared to just 12 in the previous 2 months). I tamed the jungle of our front garden – who knew pruning trees and digging up weeds could be so therapeutic for anxiety? I submitted assignments before they were due and kept up with all my lectures. I had undistracted prayer time and read more of my bible than I had the whole previous year. I (successfully!) baked cakes, spent more time playing piano and tried my hardest to just be, without always having to share my activities for the affirmation of my social group.

After about a month, I realised I wasn’t so sure I wanted to log back in to social media after all. Ultimately though, I must admit that I didn’t quite last the distance, giving in to Instagram a week early and logging onto Facebook 2 days before my designated finish line. I’d like to say that I conquered my screen addiction and maintained the healthy habits I’d established during my detox, but I’m human so I’m weak. Once I was back online, I was allured by those seductive endless newsfeeds and regressed to my old excessive meme-tagging ways. When bored, to Instagram stories I fled.

There’s a reason why going cold turkey didn’t kick my addiction. Like any consistent habit, using social media rewires our brains. Every ‘like’ or ‘view’ gives us a hit of dopamine (the neurotransmitter in our brains linked to, among other things, reward/pleasure). This chemical is also what drives the habitual desire to scroll, and when our brains learn that boredom is alleviated by clicking on that blue/white ‘F’ icon…well, pre-social media Pavlov could have predicted the outcome.

So, we’re all addicted…is there any hope? Yes, our neural pathways aren’t fixed – addictions can be conquered – praise God for neuroplasticity! I don’t feel very qualified to hand out advice to improve your existence, and I’m no neuroscientist. What I can say is that time away from social media is beneficial, yet it is a matter of agency. Time away from our screens needs to be a choice – to read more, exercise more, go outside and experience this beautiful world we call home. We need to not be afraid of boredom but embrace it, and not hide from the silence by distracting ourselves with your screens.

Social media can be used for good – connecting us with friends on the other side of the world, campaigning for social justice and sharing the positive things in our lives. It can also be used in negative ways, because we are human and we don’t always use our freedom wisely. We need to learn to use social media well, and not allow ourselves to be enslaved by it. The social media façade we paint for the world isn’t real life, it’s just a cover for the insecurities that we must deal with. Real life is messy and painful, but also beautiful. We must choose, every day, to prioritise the activities and people we love, and not fall into complacency with our eyes fixed on our screens.


Disclaimer: as soon as I finished this article, I was on my phone checking my newsfeeds. What can I say, I’m a work in progress…

Fearless

fearless“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.” – Meg Cabot

Today my best friend gave me a necklace for my 21st birthday; a golden chain with an old, worn key as the pendant. Engraved into the key is the word FEARLESS. She expressed to me that ‘fearless’ is a word that describes me – the way that I approach life, the way that I endure through suffering, the way that I love those around me and the way that I seek God. This present could not have been given to me at a more important time; of all the words I need spoken into my life right now, ‘fearless’ is the one I need most.

I do not feel fearless. Lately I have been feeling confused and overwhelmed by what has been, what is and what will be. I have felt lost and spiritually low. I have felt emotionally (and physically) exhausted. Not that I reveal any of these things to the world; only those closest to me see my brokenness. Too often I allow anxiety to consume my being, cutting me off from the people and my God who I love most. Fearless is the last word I would use to describe myself.

Reflecting on fearlessness with another dear friend this afternoon, I have realised that being fearless is not being unafraid. Being fearless is persevering in spite of and through ever-present fear. Being fearless is trusting that God is at work for His glory in every circumstance in a world that proclaims the exact opposite. Being fearless is waking up each day and surrendering each moment to God, asking Him to act through us and in us according to His will.

In the midst of change, broken relationships, sickness, spiritual warfare, financial uncertainty and the innumerable issues we face in life, it is easy to lose sight of the God in whom we trust. Being fearless is not a matter of conquering fear, but surrendering our fears to our God who is greater than our fears. Being fearless is trusting in His sovereignty and goodness, in His enduring love, no matter how deeply anxiety is gnawing at our souls. Being fearless is having confidence that God’s purposes are greater than our own, finding strength in this knowledge, and persevering through disappointment and despondency.

This morning, in a deeply fatigued, emotionally low state, I typed “fear” into my phone’s bible search tool, seeking a verse that would point me to the God of all comfort. I found this:

‘Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?’ – Job 4:6

Though I don’t like to read verses out of context, this was a great encouragement. I am not fearless because I am not afraid of anything – I am afraid of many things. Fear is an important emotion to experience; our bodies and minds respond to dangerous and uncertain situations with fear. I am fearless because I place my confidence in Christ, who sacrificed His life to deliver me from bondage to sin. I find courage and strength in what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do. My ability to endure through the trials of life comes from Him alone; it is His strength at work in me. I am able to love fearlessly because He first loved me – and paid the price for my sin in love.

I experience anxiety daily, and am often consumed by it. Yet God is greater than my anxiety, and in Him I do not have to be a slave to fear. In Christ I have been set free, and though fear still overwhelms, He gives me the strength to hold on to the truth of His love and grace. In Him, fear has no power over my life. In Him, I am able to endure through fear and uncertainty. In Him, I am fearless.


 

Photo captured with a Canon Eos 600D.

Key necklace designed by The Giving Keys.

Evolution and Creation

In the midst of essay writing on the impact of Charles Darwin’s writings on the Church, I escaped to one of my favourite places in the world. It is impossible to stand looking out over this valley and think that there couldn’t be a Creator. Evolution is an observable phenomenon in the natural world; it is a controversial subject and is one that many people use to reject God. Yet, the more I read about evolutionary theory, the more I am inspired to respond with awe at the immensity and intricacy of creation and the processes by which it is ruled.

Darwin himself never claimed there is no God, though ultimately he rejected the faith of his youth. Many historians argue that to his death Darwin held a theistic view of Creation (that God ultimately created the world). Regardless of whether you believe that humanity (and all of creation) is descendant from a single organism, or believe creation is a result of a random coincidence and man’s life is meaningless, or whether you believe that God created the world, with order and purpose, and proclaimed His creation to be good (see Gen 1), the beauty of creation is impossible to ignore.

I will never cease to be in awe of my God, who I know breathed life into being, who spoke and the universe was created. I can only respond with praise when I behold sights like this: storms (1 of 1)-29

“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end.” (Ps. 24:25-27)

storms (1 of 1)-30

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers…” (Ps. 24:1-2)

storms (1 of 1)-40

“Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who alone does great wonders… to Him who by understanding made the heavens… to Him who spread out the earth above the waters…” (Ps. 136).


All photos captured with a Canon Eos 600D.

Location: Burragorang Valley, NSW.

New Years Resolutions: is change really possible?

New Years Resolutions. We all make them. We decide the new year is a time to transform ourselves: to get off the couch and run more, to eat less take away and more home-cooked meals, to read our bibles and pray more. We make plans to transform our lives: to climb mountains and sunbake on exotic beaches, to find that dream job that utilises our true potential, to peel our eyes away from screens and actually experience life. We dream of doing our bit to change the world: to grow vegetables and invest in a worm farm, to donate more to charities and less to multi-million dollar corporations, to campaign for justice and raise awareness for the less-fortunate.

Yet, seldom do we ever see these plans to fruition. The question is always asked: how long do you think you will hold fast to your Resolutions? The answer, I’ve found, is reflected in the person’s rolled eyes and awkward laughter. It seems that we desire change, yet don’t believe it possible. We aspire to greatness yet don’t consider it achievable. No matter whether our intensions are genuine, we ultimately fall back into old habits. If this is the case, then why do we bother making resolutions at all? I think it is because we want to believe that change IS possible, that greatness IS achievable, that old habits and addictions CAN be broken. On our own, however, we cannot achieve these things.

The answer is found in a man who walked this earth 2000 years ago, whose birth humanity celebrates every year at Christmas, but is overshadowed by mass consumerism and a hairy guy in a red onesie. A man who willingly gave His life on a Roman cross in order to bring us to salvation and reconcile us into relationship with God. A man called Jesus. It is only in and through Him that true, lasting change can occur, that we who were dead in our sin are brought to life. The problem with New Years Resolutions is that we seek to evoke change ourselves, rather than seeking inward and outward renewal through the Spirit. We plan and dream and strategize, yet forget to pray! We fail to acknowledge His sovereignty over our lives. We are motivated by our own desires and purposes rather than by the glory of our God who is sovereign over all.

My one resolution for this year is to wake up every day and intentionally acknowledge God’s sovereignty over my life; to open my eyes and surrender every day to God, to be used as a vessel for His glory. I need to be willing to set aside my own selfish desires so that His far greater purposes can be fulfilled in and through me. In doing so, I have to acknowledge that in my own strength I can do nothing, but by the work of the Spirit in my heart, mind and soul, true transformation will occur. I will make plans, set goals, dream and strategise; but, in the words of Psalms:

Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose

of the LORD that will stand. ~Proverbs 19:21