Peace of Mind – It’s Hard Work

One of the myths about peace of mind, even among Christians, is that it is something that happens to you. The reality is that peace of mind is hard work. Like everything else that makes life worth living (i.e., gratitude, compassion, love, emotional intelligence), peace of mind is a skill that involves struggle and constant practice.

In a recent article for the Taylor Study Method, I’ve explored some of the steps we can take to achieving peace of mind. Since TSM is a secular company I wasn’t able to bring in the spiritual aspects, but everything I say can be found either from the Bible or the writings of spiritual mystics.

Here’s a link to my post:

How Peace of Mind is a Skill That Can Be Developed With Practice

A Different Approach to the Classroom

Growing up in the modern West, most of us have been conditioned to think that the best students are those who don’t struggle. Successful people are those who easily achieve straight A’s, who can get their homework done as quickly as possible, and who rarely have to deal with unpleasant realities such as frustration, struggle, confusion or failure. The notion that struggle is a sign of low-ability is such a part of the very air we breathe that it is rarely questioned and permeates the culture of the classroom.

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Breathing, Gratitude and the Power of Silence

As we rush about our busy lives, how often do we stop to savor the joy of being able to breathe, or the joy of being able to sit in a state of peace and stillness? How often do we remember that, of all the blessings God has given us in this world, the blessing of being able to breathe affords one of the most profound occasions of gratitude?

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Struggling Towards Holiness

Russian Christians frequently emphasize the concept of spiritual struggle, as encapsulated in their word “podvig.” There is no English equivalent for podvig, but the term conveys the idea of a good hardship, a spiritual struggle, a God-ordained difficulty.

“I think I might stop being a Christian,” my friend said, a few minutes after comfortably situating himself in my office.

“Why?” I asked. “Have you stopped believing in God?”

My friend, who we will call Trevor, pondered silently. A few days ago Trevor had asked to meet to get some advice about a personal crisis he was facing. But the conversation had quickly turned to his more general struggles with Christianity.

I renewed my question: “Is it because you’ve stopped believing in God that you are considering giving up Christianity?”

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My OCAMPR Workshop on Gratitude During Times of Suffering

Last week I had the privilege of traveling out to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology which was hosting this year’s conference for The Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion. I was asked by the OCAMPR board to present a workshop on the topic ‘Gratitude During Times of Suffering.’ My talk, which was recorded on Ancient Faith Radio, is available by clicking on the video below. It is also available for mp3 download here.

Yes, You Should Still be a Christian…even when the struggle is hard

“I think I might stop being a Christian,” my friend said, a few minutes after comfortably situating himself in my office.

“Why?” I asked. “Have you stopped believing in God?”

My friend (whom we will call Trevor) pondered silently. A few days ago Trevor had asked to meet to get some advice about a personal crisis he was facing. But the conversation had quickly turned to his spiritual struggles.

I renewed my question: “Is it because you’ve stopped believing in God that you are considering giving up Christianity?”

“It’s not that, Robin. I still believe in God. But I’ve been at this Christianity thing for over six years now, yet I’m still struggling with the same sins and addictions that I had when I converted. It’s so frustrating! People keep telling me that I need to rely on the Holy Spirit to help me, but however much I pray and ask for help, it never gets any easier. I’m confused. I just can’t achieve victory over the sins in my life. Why isn’t the Holy Spirit helping me?”

Trevor explained how he was told he needed to abandon the struggle and “let go and let God.” The problem was that victory over sin was part of the criteria for determining whether he had fully “let go”, and since he couldn’t achieve complete victory over his sinful habits, he was crippled with a double load of guilt – the guilt of his sin, plus the guilt that he hadn’t “let go.” Trevor had also been told he was struggling in his own strength, while others had declared that the very difficulties he was facing were themselves a sign that he wasn’t a true Christian. The difficult Christian life is a failed Christian life, he had been told. Continue reading

The Neurological Tug-of-war

From ‘How Peace of Mind is a Skill That Can Be Developed With Practice‘:

“The average person experiences thousands of thoughts every day, most of which flow into the mind without us even choosing like a fast-moving river. Most of these thoughts flow out of our mind as quickly as they come but not without leaving a residue on our unconscious. If even 15% of the thousands of thoughts that arrive in our brain every day are negative then that amounts to hundreds of negative thoughts in a single day. For most people the negative thoughts reach well into the thousands. Over a lifetime, this accumulative load of negativity can begin to have an effect on our health, our relationships with others and even on our self-identity.
 
We tend to think that a positive outlook results from external circumstances and forces that are outside of us. Though we might not actually express it so crudely, we intuitively assume that peace of mind results from getting what we want. While this may be partially true in some cases, it is more often the case that peace of mind results from the mindset we choose to adopt about our lives irrespective to what is happening around us.
 
Think of the brain as the theater of a constant tug-of-war between the positive and the negative side of us. The more our thought-life empowers the negative side in this tug-of-war the more we will be weighed down and actually make our suffering worse. The tug-of-war between the negative and the positive ultimately determines whether our life will be filled with joy, gratitude, and a sense of hopeful expectancy about the future, or whether our life will be weighed down by grumbling, stress, and a sense of anxiety about the future.”
 
 

The Spiritual Life is Hard

Last month Rod Dreher wrote a post for the American Conservative titled ‘Orthodoxy Is Hard. Thank God.’ Dreher, a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy from Catholicism, reflected on how hard Orthodoxy is, particularly during Holy Week leading up to the Pascha celebration.

As a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy myself, one of the things that struck me when my family first started attending Orthodox services was just how hard Orthodoxy is. Long periods of fasting, standing up during the services, going to confession, to say nothing of internal virtues like humility – all very hard work. This was something I actually didn’t like about Orthodoxy.

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Struggle is Good

In the spiritual life, is struggle a virtue or a vice?

In the spiritual life, is struggle a virtue or a vice?

“Let go and let God.”

“Human effort plays no part in the spiritual life.”

“If you’re struggling to be holy, that just shows you’re working in your own strength rather than God’s.”

Do these cliches sound familiar? Having spent most of my life in evangelical circles, I can’t begin to count the amount of times I was told that a spirit-led life should not be a struggle, but should come easy. One teacher told me that the Christian life should be as easy as a boy rolling down hill, while other mentors told me that frustration, confusion and struggle are the signs that someone is living in the flesh rather than the Spirit. One book that was recommended to me by almost all my evangelical friends said that will-power played no part in the life of someone surrendered to Jesus.

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Do What Comes Naturally…But Work at it

Gratitude makes all the other virtues easier. Moreover, by being grateful, we decrease the burden that difficult circumstances might otherwise place on our lives.

I’ve been doing some blogging recently about struggle, effort, will-power and the virtue of working hard (see here and here and here). I’ve also been writing articles about gratitude (see here and here and here). In this post I want to connect these two themes and explore the role that struggle and effort can play in developing a life of gratitude.

In talking about the role struggle can play in developing gratitude, I feel I’m going against the grain of so much popular thinking. In my experience at least, one of the myths that is deeply ingrained in our culture is that the more effort something requires, the less genuine or authentic is the result.

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