Tag Archives: Bible

Rainbows & Unicorns: The Formula for Perfect Blog Posts

rainbow_unicorn_by_iridalaoi-d6djq2a

No, I haven’t lost my mind.

I came across this Bible passage on someone else’s blog recently:

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest

if we do not give up.  (Galatians 6:9)

It is an incredibly inspiring verse, enough so that it made me meditate on each word and phrase — something I rarely do these days.

Then I started thinking: What a fine blog post this would make. Throw in a nice, warm piece of Scripture, add some inspiring words (maybe from my therapist), and, presto, a blog post is born.

Not to make light of Sacred Scripture or anything, but, to me, there’s definitely more to it than that. People can express themselves in any way that they see fit. I’ve noticed that my posts tend to hover around the darkish portions of life, completely negating the original intent of my blog which is to inspire and prayerfully help others grow closer to God.

Why do you hover and brood over dark things, Topaz? Well, because that’s life. That’s all. A lot of things complicate my life and I suppose they make me who I am and make me write about what I do.

Heck, I started this blog post to discuss how banal so many blogs out there are. A lot of them are like Facebook updates or sprinkled with memes that wreak of generic spirituality and inspiration.

I guess another reason I’ve decided to write this is because today is my oldest son’s birthday (and I’m relieved to say that he’s still in elementary school — they grow up so fast). I wanted to be a tad bit encouraging in honor of him.

I’m not particularly depressed right now. However, my buspirone and trifluoperazine are making me pretty dang sleepy. I was about to collapse on my bed after getting home from work until my wife told me to do something fun. I guess writing blog posts is considered fun. (Like most things, I find writing hard to do, like a chore that I need to get done but I keep putting it off.)

So, hopefully, the Scripture will inspire you and that you’ll have a good day.

I can honestly say that at this moment I’m glad to be alive.

~t

 

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God is With Us in Our Darkest Hour

  
[Rachel] was deeply saddened that day, and she went into an upper chamber of her house, where she planned to hang herself. But she reconsidered. …

At that time, then, she spread out her hands, and facing the window, poured out her prayer:

“Blessed are you, O Lord, merciful God, and blessed is your holy and honorable name. Blessed are you in all your works forever!”

At that time, the prayer … was heard in the glorious presence of Almighty God.
                                   
                               -Tobit 3:10-16

~t

(Photo by Topaz)


How to Increase Willpower in Our Struggle Against Sin and Addiction

Photo: Getty

 

Like other Catholics and Christians, I find it difficult to resist sin on occasion. Even after a great morning of prayer or right after Mass, it’s not too uncommon for me to lose my temper in traffic when, for instance, someone cuts me off. Like St. Paul discusses in Holy Scripture, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21)

The traffic anecdote may sound mild, but my anger tends to stick with me and ruin my day. I would say my biggest daily struggle, however, is with sexual impurity and pornography. I have made great strides and even stay on the wagon for weeks at a time, but, like St. Paul says, evil is always right there with me.

When I was at a retreat this past spring, I had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. confession) from a kind but stern priest. We were facing each other in folding metal chairs, and I’ll never forget his advice before I received absolution:

“You need a battle plan.”

Being a bonehead as usual, I failed to ask what kind of battle plan, or, better yet, what a battle plan was. In my “research,” I found some very good sites like this one. However, I felt that I was lacking something.

About a year ago, my regular confessor told me, after I had told him about my recent sins of masturbation and viewing pornography, “You… um… just need to… (sigh) try harder.”

I need to try harder?! I thought afterwards. Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s job? To help me out when I need it?

I didn’t understand that I needed to put forth some effort. Lots of it. 2 Peter 1:5 talks about making every effort to add virtues to our lives. Also, St. James writes in chapter 4, verse 7 of his epistle: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Then, recently, I came across a blog post by Eric Barker entitled “7 Ways You Can Easily Increase Your Willpower.” I devoured the article and started putting into practice things that I had learned.

It’s a bit lengthy, but the article is well worth your time. If you are having trouble with addictions such as (but not limited to) impurity and pornography, I would encourage you to give it a read.

By the way, I’m not implying that God is not powerful enough for us to overcome addictions. On the contrary, God wants us to make every effort to “avoid whatever leads [us] to sin.” (from the Act of Contrition)

Here it the article:

 


 

 

In general, people have an overly positive vision of themselves and their abilities.

But what’s the one thing surveys show that most people have a problem with?

Self-control.

And who is most likely to give in to temptation?

Ironically, it’s the people who think they have the most willpower.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Research shows that people who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to lose control when tempted. For example, smokers who are the most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are the most likely to relapse four months later, and overoptimistic dieters are the least likely to lose weight.

So how can we really increase willpower? What does science have to say?

I’ve posted a lot about the subject — from research to interviewing the foremost expert on the subject. Let’s round it all up and make it useful.

Here are 7 ways you can increase your own willpower and live a better life: 

 

1) “Keystone” Habits Are A Magic Bullet

Everyone wants a magic bullet. One pill that fixes everything. The closest thing in the area of willpower is what are called “keystone habits.”

The primary one is exercise. What’s so special about running or lifting weights? It doesn’t just give you more discipline at the gym…

It also makes you eat better. And helps you use your credit card less. And makes you more productive at work. And more patient with loved ones.

Exercise leads people to create other, often unrelated, good habits:

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly… “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

Going to the gym is too much for you? Try food journaling. Just write down everything you eat, every day. It’s another powerful keystone habit.

So if you’re going to do anything, keystone habits get the best bang for your buck. What else should you do every day?

 

2) Do Important Things Early

Leading self-control researcher Roy Baumeister, has found that willpower is limited.

It’s highest early in the day but as we make more decisions, it empties like a gas tank.

This leads to a simple answer: do the most important things first. As the day goes on it will only get harder to face big challenges.

When do most self control failures happen?

At night. Roy explains:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

So your willpower is limited. What else can this tell us about the best way to use it? 

 

3) Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower

Productivity guru Tim Ferriss says willpower is overrated. We have a limited amount of it, so relying on it is a bad idea.

Research shows we don’t use much willpower when something is a habit, when our behaviors are automatic.

How do you build good habits? Here’s a fantastic interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit:

Building new habits is too hard, you say? Then try this:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

Hide the cookies and put your running shoes next to the bed.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

People who think they have a lot of willpower expose themselves to more temptation — and eventually cave. So don’t rely on willpower.

Now comes the part where I contradict myself… 

 

4) Use Willpower To Build Willpower

I know, I know… I just told you not to use willpower, now I’m telling you to use willpower. What gives?

Baumeister compares willpower to a muscle. When you use it too much, it gets tired and gives out.

But by exercising it, over time it gets stronger. So you don’t want to rely on willpower for everything. You want to rely on habits.

But you want to make sure to tap into willpower a bit every day, always pushing yourself a bit to grow that muscle over time.

How simple can your daily self-control exercise be? Merely working on your posture can produce willpower benefits.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

Unexpectedly, the best results came from the group working on posture. That tiresome old advice—”Sit up straight!”—was more useful than anyone had imagined. By overriding their habit of slouching, the students strengthened their willpower and did better at tasks that had nothing to do with posture.

Simple is good, right? Want to know other crazy simple things that can help? Want to improve willpower in your sleep?

 

5) Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep

Yes, improving willpower is as easy as eating and getting enough sleep.

When I asked Roy Baumeister the easiest way to quickly boost self-control he simply replied, “Just eat something.

Want to wake up full of willpower? It’s as easy as getting more sleep at night.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

We shouldn’t need to be told something so obvious, but cranky toddlers aren’t the only ones who resist much needed naps. Adults routinely shortchange themselves on sleep, and the result is less self-control.

Eating and sleeping not easy enough for you? Here’s something even easier.

 

6) Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower

Ever been so lazy you put things off that you actually enjoy? This can actually boost self-control.

You don’t even have to say no to every temptation to gain discipline. Just postponing them can help too.

Research shows telling yourself “Not now, but later” is far more powerful than “No, you can’t have that.”

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

…people who had told themselves “Not now, but later” were less troubled with visions of chocolate cake than the other two groups… Those in the postponement condition actually ate significantly less than those in the self-denial condition…

Anything other than just giving in helps strengthen your willpower muscle.

Delay, distraction, or even caving in a defined way can help increase discipline.

Okay, now’s the time for the bad news… 

 

7) You’re Going To Screw Up… But That’s Okay

You’re going to give in to temptation. That’s not defeatist; it’s reality. But what matters is what you do after.

Feeling the urge to beat yourself up over your lack of willpower? Don’t do it. No Mea Culpas are necessary.

Blaming yourself reduces self-control. Showing self-compassion increases it.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion— being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure— is associated with more motivation and better self-control.

People who cut themselves slack go on to keep trying — and end up succeeding.

So how does all of this fit together? 

 

Sum Up

Give the 7 a try:

  1. “Keystone Habits” Are A Magic Bullet
  2. Do Important Things Early
  3. Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower
  4. Use Willpower To Build Willpower
  5. Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep
  6. Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower
  7. You’re Going To Screw Up… And That’s Okay

I’m sure to some people this sounds hard and lonely. But it doesn’t have to be a solitary thing.

Relationships improve willpower: the best way to accomplish any change is by having a supportive group of friends around you.

And the reverse is true as well: willpower improves relationships:

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

Willpower is one of the first steps in improving any area of life — and it’s good to know that self-control isn’t selfish.

 

 Source

 

~t

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sunday Musings: Weekend Campout

 

Credit: Microsoft images

A few weeks ago, my sons and I had the opportunity to go on a weekend father-and-son campout with my parish youth group.

Surprisingly, my wife didn’t object when I asked her if I could start taking our sons to a Sunday afternoon youth group. At first our kids didn’t quite fit in since they’re not being raised in the most Catholic of households. Before bed, my kids and I pray the Hail Mary, and we read a Bible story each night in my oldest son’s My Little Bible.

With this being my very first outdoor Mass, and having to corral my two muddy little boys through the whole thing, I thought that it would make for some Sunday musings.

 

1. Watching Clark Kent Change into Superman

I thought it was cool that the two young priests put on their vestments among us since there was no sacristy at the campgrounds. It was kind of like a behind-the-scenes moment that I probably won’t see very often.

 

2. The “Choir”

Mothers and daughters, how we missed you.

 

3. The Spirit of God Was Alive and Well

Missals being blown off the lectern, altar cloth billowing in the wind, ball caps flying across the seats. Oh, and the now-infamous highlight of the Mass for the kids: watching some poor family’s tent being blown into the lake directly behind the altar.

 

4. A Scary Cave Experience

The homily was really gripping. The Gospel text was John 9:1-41 which was about Jesus healing a man who was born blind. The priest, a native of Arkansas, shared a personal account of exploring some of the state’s many underground caverns.

He described one cave as a five-level maze. Sure enough, his helmet light wasn’t fully charged, and it died at the wrong time. I wouldn’t want to imagine the fright as he tried to find his way out of the total darkness. Eventually, he saw a tiny speck of daylight far off into the distance. Relief flooded over him as he made his way to the light.

Needless to say, it put the Gospel reading into full perspective for me. You know, “blind but now I see” and all that.

 

5. Feeding Frenzy

No tabernacle = nowhere to place the Eucharist after Mass. I suppose the priests erred on the side of caution, because after communion, both of them stood at the altar for a very long time consuming all the leftover hosts. I bet there were a hundred extras that had to be consumed before Mass could continue. Talk about an awkward moment.

~t


Sunday Musings: Do Not Worry

credit: wallpapersus.com

This is a section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass.

It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

 

1. Running into Church

I cant believe it. Yesterday I was wearing shorts and sweating at the park in 80 degree (26 C) sunshine. This morning, the temperature had plunged to 40 (4 C).

You would have thought the world was ending: everyone sprinting into church from the parking lot. Alas, no spontaneous conviction of sin; just cold Texans headed into a warm place.

 

2. Mass Disruption

I’ve been reading blogs by traditional Catholics who prefer the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin. It’s definitely given me food for thought as to the modern innovations that have taken place in the past 40 years or so.

All of this came to mind in the middle of Mass this morning when the priest suddenly asked all parishioners to come to the altar in a chaotic mob and pick up a copy of a Lent booklet. It just didn’t seem like the appropriate time to do such a thing.

Maybe the complaints of the traditionalists are starting to influence me, or maybe I’m being too uptight about the whole thing. I don’t know. I’ll just continue to trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding us as we are fumbling along into the third millennium of the Church.

 

3. Do Not Worry

The homily and Gospel reading today fit perfectly into my current positive-thinking discipline. Matthew 6:24-34 reminded me to stop worrying about things and trust that God will provide in all situations.

It also helped me to remember that the upcoming Lenten season is a time to draw closer to God as we make sacrifices that might otherwise distract us from Him.

My fear for this Lent (as well as previous ones):  Will I be holy and pious enough during the upcoming 40 days? Do not worry, Topaz.

 

4. Men’s Club vs. K of C

After Mass, a representative from the parish Men’s Club gave a recruitment spiel about the benefits of joining his “social and service brotherhood.” I don’t know if other parishes have a Men’s Club, but I found myself being offended that this group would (gasp!) dare to compete with the Knights of Columbus. We are better! You few guys need to join us! 131 years and going strong! Definitely a pride check from God.

 

5. Chalices are Back

During the winter, the chalices (communion cups) weren’t being used due to flu season. Today, all of a sudden, they were back! I know it’s the very beginning of March, but… What if flu season is still here?! After my initial panic, I got in line for the chalice. Do not worry…

~t


Positive Thinking and the Mind of Christ

One week after being ordered to attend anger management classes by my supervisor, I finally met with a counselor that was assigned to me.

On the phone, she sounded very kind, like a grandmotherly type. I was surprised that she answered her own phone. I guess her schedule was pretty open because I named a time and date, and she immediately said she’d see me then.

I wasn’t greeted by any receptionist window when I entered her office; a nice, cozy, empty living-room-type area was all I saw. I wandered around the “office” until I finally heard voices coming from a back room. Feeling more at ease, I plopped down on the fluffy sofa with plenty of mismatched pillows surrounding me.

Finally the other patient left, and the therapist, a tall, thin lady in her 60s, came to get me.

Her office, what looked like a converted bedroom, overwhelmed my senses in a good way: shelves of stuffed animals, knick-knacks everywhere, flowers and plants placed all over. I got the impression right away that she counseled lots of families and children.

Taking my seat on the comfortable sofa, I immediately noticed her main bookshelf, where The Secret was prominently featured. Hmm. She is wearing lots of bangles and stuff. I pegged her as a New Ager right away. What the hell, I thought. My school is paying for all this, and I’m allowed to miss work, so relax.

Before we started, the doctor (she has a Ph.D.) asked me what my goal for these sessions was; my school is only covering three sessions after all.

“Anger management. How to control my anger at work and be professional. Even when I don’t feel like it.”

That seemed to satisfy her.

The rest of the 45-minute session was straight out of The Secret: our positive thoughts flow into the universe, and the universe sends back positive energy and results. And vice versa.

I felt like I was trapped inside a giant infomercial for that book. The doctor went on and on, sharing testimony after testimony about how positive thinking and will power changed her life for the better. No mention of God or Jesus.

I told her I would give it a shot.

On my way home, I started thinking about the session and what I was learning. Then I realized that I could take the “normal” things, like positive thinking, and leave the universe-energy-Secret stuff.

Then a Scripture came to me like God whispering in my ear:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

And then another:

…I beat my body and make it my slave… (1 Corinthians 9:27)

This last one didn’t mention mind, but I believed it involved making every effort to be positive. Anyhow, I was on to something.  I went home and searched the Scriptures for mention of the word mind. Here are some verses that I found:

I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind… (Jeremiah 17:10)

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

And then this one:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Why hadn’t I paid attention to all this before? Well, one doesn’t seek medical attention until one is convinced of an illness. I do suffer from mental issues, but nobody (that I can recall) had ever taught convinced me that even I could take control of my mind and feed it positive thoughts.

It would take some work, like giving up some extreme metal music that I had come to enjoy and putting aside some of those dark independent films that I’m fond of.

I met with the doctor for a second time this morning and told her of my progress: I had actually seen some sort of improvement from our first session! By feeding my mind positive thoughts, I had been able to enjoy work more and get along better with my students and colleagues.

And I was overjoyed to finally discover and put into practice the idea of taking on the mind of Christ.

…But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)

~t

(photo by Topaz)


Seeing Things from God’s Perspective

Last week I had yet another meeting with three individuals: my new supervisor, the dean, and the HR director. Talk about déjà vu. Sheesh.

I was actually hoping that this would be the final straw. I’m sick and tired of being the whipping boy for new supervisors and deans who want to make an example out of someone.

I told a colleague whom I despise how something was supposed to be done. She went above my head and right to my direct supervisor who is basically the assistant dean. This isn’t the public school system, for crying out loud! It’s higher education; you know, where instructors have a say in what they teach and how they teach it.

But I learned yet again that some people you can’t mess with because they are too connected to the right people.

So, the HR director, my supervisor, the dean, and I sat at the dean’s cramped little table in his office. Surprise! Another written warning. God was looking out for me because, technically, I was supposed to get a one-week suspension with pay, but HR said that since I have a new supervisor, they will just give me a second written warning. That was bittersweet. It was good because I still have employment. Bad because I really was hoping that they would terminate me.

At home, my wife lectured yelled at me for not changing. According to her, this was all my fault because I haven’t been giving my best to my colleagues, supervisors, and students. I didn’t want to hear it, so I argued back.

Anyway, I spent the night thinking about what she said, and then I prayed like crazy for God to help me in such a difficult situation.

The following morning, the truth hit me square in the face. I jotted down as much as I could from the revelation that The Lord was giving me. I have listed my notes below.

 

1. Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30)

Verse 29 is the summary, but I read the whole parable which opened my eyes to how I’m letting God down.

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. (v. 29)

 

2. Elisha and the Chariots of Fire (2 Kings 6: 8-18)

This is an awesome story about how God opens our eyes to see that He will deliver us from any predicament. This is why staying close to God is so important in our spiritual life.

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (v. 17)

 

3. Our Battle is Not Against Flesh and Blood (Ephesians 6: 12)

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

It’s not my supervisor I should be angry with; rather, I need to see this as a learning opportunity: God slapping me upside the head and finally saying, “Wake up! You’re headed the wrong way!”

 

4. Bloom Where You Are Planted (Jeremiah 29: 4-14)

Although these words are implicitly stated in the Bible, it is a wonderful passage about God speaking to His people who had been exiled to a foreign land. There was nothing but struggle after struggle for them. Instead of God saying, “I will help you right away! Your problems will disappear immediately,” He says the following:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ (verses 4-7)

 

In summary, do the best with what you have and always be faithful. God will act according to His timetable, not ours.

~t