Monday Musings…Remind Me of What’s Important
It kind of feels like you’re a feather weight in a boxing ring with a heavy weight. I’m talking about frustration. You pound away with the left hook, and the right, but even the upper cut gives you no movement closer to reaching your goal. The goal could be big, like getting that job you need to pay your bills; or it could be small, like trying to organize a room with toddlers running around. It doesn’t seem to matter what you try; you just aren’t making any headway. You try to block the oncoming jabs at your psyche, but you stumble, and sometimes crash to the ground.
Frustration is one of those emotions, or rather reactions, we wish we could control, but it’s so easy to slip back and let that irritation fester and build, until it erupts into anger. Frustration happens when we try so hard to hold back the tidal wave of thoughts or words that are adding pressure to our already stretched coping capacity. All it takes is for some innocent bystander to ask us a simple question and we snap: “I can’t deal with that right now! I’m working on something!”
And shortly thereafter, the guilt sets in, the failure of character is apparent, and we tell ourselves, and hopefully the other person, we’ll do better next time.
No doubt that next time will come. It might be in the next minute, hour, day, or week, but we’ll get another chance to get in that ring against our mammoth emotional opponent. Our intention in everyday life is to throw that frustration to the mat for a count of 10, creating a fight ending knock out! But too often, frustration rises and knocks us on our backsides. How many rounds do we have to go, to learn to control it?
I can remember particularly as a young mom with 5 little kids, just how hard it was to stay calm, cool, and collected. I think if we’re honest, we all fail at this. The problem is you never hear about other parents’ failings. You only see the pictures of a perfect house, toys all in order, kids with clean faces, and no sibling hitting their younger one (or vice versa). Remember that was a staged snapshot in a single moment in time. What was the family like a few seconds after the picture was taken?
With little kids, you can clean up a room and in 10 seconds it can be destroyed like a tornado whipped through. As a young mom, I always found it particularly frustrating when unexpected company would come over, calling ahead and giving a 10 minute warning. "We're in the area. Thought we'd stop by." I should have been happy for the warning. Instead, we’d do a mad dash to tidy things up, and I could feel my frustration building as it was never ‘perfect’, and I’d be snapping at the kids to hurry up. Man, how I regretted and still regret those times. My mind was on the potential judgment by my company on my housekeeping skills, and not on what I was modelling for my children. It’s not that I should have known better; I did know better, but that frustration just kept knocking me down and I was taking my kids with me. Even when you apologize to them, the memory is still there.
It’s not like frustration lessens as you age either. Or even when you are an empty-nester. There are irritations everywhere; you really don’t have to go looking very far. Just own a computer. Or try working from home. Right now I’m in the process of creating online educational materials. I have limited technology skills, but here I am, fumbling my way through. I said to my husband this week, after working on a web page for hours: “I can’t just read about how to do this, I need a video to show me!" Note the exclamation point. After searching and searching, I found one. Thank you, YouTube, you’ve restored my sanity, but not before my frustration gave me a splitting headache.
Frustration creeps up unexpectedly. You start off strong, try and work through whatever issue is at hand, but there's a point that you reach, where you're ready to say: “That’s it! I give up! This is a losing battle.”
How do we win this fight? Well, as all good boxers know, you need a winning mindset. How can I possibly think I can win against my daunting opponent called frustration? It’s a true David and Goliath situation.
Of all the Biblical stories, the story of David and Goliath is probably one most people on the planet know. How could David, this young man armed with his shepherd’s staff, a slingshot, and a pouch holding 5 smooth stones, possibly defeat Goliath, a giant over 9-feet tall, who came ready for battle with his armour, shield, and spear? Impossible, you say. Well, you know the end of the story. But you may not know the whole story. And it definitely applies to our emotional battles.
Frustration is our enemy. It seems too daunting to think we can ever subdue it. But once you’re aware of how it impacts your life and others, you need to make an intentional effort to work on it; not just say, “well, everyone gets frustrated”. That was David’s approach. He showed up to the battleground and saw that everyone had backed away from the challenge. So he stepped up and volunteered to challenge Goliath, even though many doubted him. You too can voluntarily decide this frustration foe is worth fighting! Don't doubt yourself!
But why did David volunteer to risk his life? The outcome mattered to him! David was known as a man after God’s own heart. When Goliath and the Philistines challenged the beliefs of his people… well, that was all the motivation he needed. He knew that victory would secure not only the land, but would allow his kin to worship freely. When you know that defeating a negative mindset, a bad habit, or sin can bring you peace, it’s well worth the effort! Focus on what matters.
It doesn’t take extraordinary effort to face the giants in your life. Use what you know. When David volunteered, the King outfitted him with his personal armour and sword, but David removed them saying “I am not used to them.” (1 Samuel 17:39). Good point, David. No one wants to do battle in gear that doesn't fit or feel right. It just adds to the stress! (It's sort of like when someone tells us what they would do in a certain situation, but you know that's not how you would approach it, ever. It's just not going to work.) So, David went out to do battle in his regular garb, taking artillery that would seem inferior to Goliath’s. But it was what David knew; it’s what he was comfortable with. David’s confidence came from his own knowledge of how he had used his slingshot to conquer other enemies, in particular wild animals from harming his sheep. This fit with his plan. So, think of the victories you've had over frustration in your past. What did you do? How did you control it?
You might be saying: “I don’t know?” And that could be very true as maybe the emotion left as fast as it came. So, here’s what I think we all should do? The next time you feel the frustration rising, STOP, and think about what's truly important. Is it more important to have a clean house or happy children? The former is temporal, the latter lasts your lifetime. David got this. His motivation for battling the giant was to maintain the reverence and respect for his God. He knew that relationship was valuable and worth fighting for. No giant was going to intimidate him and thwart that!
But David also believed that God would help him secure the victory. Too often we go on our own strength in this life. Managing our mental state does come down to what you believe.
So, Goliath taunted David, calling him a measly dog and that this the battle would be over before it even started. But David stayed focused in the moment for what truly mattered. He ran towards Goliath and using only one stone, found his vulnerability and the slingshot sunk that single stone deep into the centre of Goliath’s forehead, Goliath's one area that was unprotected! Know where you’re vulnerable. What are the triggers for your frustration? Maybe it’s not hearing back about work? Maybe it’s being stuck in the house during a rainy week? Maybe it’s expectations or pressure you put on yourself? Whatever they are, identify those Goliaths and when you see them on the horizon, pull out a strategic stone to not let the frustration take a step closer. Launch your mental attack and crash those negative thoughts and emotions to the ground.
You see, any featherweight can beat the heavy weight, if they know exactly where to throw the knock out punch! So here's our plan when we enter the ring:
Know the triggers for your frustration.
Think about what you believe and value.
Recognize what is truly important in life, namely that personal relationships matter more than outside expectations.
Use what you know from previous victories and the benefits that come from reducing frustration.
Remember that controlling frustration truly matters in the long run.
But it’s up to you. It’s your choice how you’ll respond the next time you feel the frustration foe afoot!
Jeremy Camp’s song, Keep Me in the Moment, puts this all into perspective in our daily lives. Let’s not lose sight of what’s really important!