Don't Ignore the Check Engine Light

Oct 06, 2020

I wonder if you can relate...


Everyone thinks you’re the one people trust to have it all together. That you’ve always been this way. They think nothing ever moves you, and if it does, it only moves you forward faster. 


You’ve handled the pandemic with purpose—from the closet purge to taking things up a notch in your work. You’ve embraced this time as a selah (intentional pause) moment and given yourself to personal growth. And maybe you’ve even managed to limit the effects of quarantine on your waistline.


On the outside, you look like you still have it all together. But on the inside, the edges of your emotional wellbeing are showing signs of the constant stress.


You see, no matter what you tell yourself, this season hasn’t been like any other. 


It’s been full of disappointments, setbacks, cancellations and adjustments. So while you’ve done a yeoman's work muscling up for yourself and others, even finding joy in the journey, you’re starting to get the sense that something’s not right in you. 


Maybe you’ve been telling yourself that your moodiness is just you having “a day.” Perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that your frustration and anxiety is all because you’re tired (even though you seem to be tired all the time). Maybe your motivation looks less like movement and more like *meh*, but you keep pushing through.


Because that’s what you always do. 


I know this is the way you’re used to working, but what if the things you’re dismissing are actually warning signs—indicators that something more is going on?


What if they’re the intrapersonal equivalent of a “check engine” light, and you’re not paying any attention?


When I noticed the warning signs in myself, I went to the one place I go to sort things out: my study. This is the room in my house where I shut out noise and distractions so I can be still before God. It’s my hidden place. I spend time here in worship, reading and writing. It’s pretty accurate to say that my study is the “garage for my soul”—the place where I open myself up so God can work in me.


Sometimes my experience here is like a tune-up where I’m refreshed and refueled. Other times it’s like being detailed. The questions go into the nooks and crannies of my mind and heart. Stuff I didn’t know was hidden is exposed and cleaned out. It’s deep work, but good work!


When I went in search of answers to the rising tide of emotions in me, I went to the study. I started to pray, but couldn’t pinpoint any one thing to pray about. It was as though the one thing was really e v e r y t h i n g—a big list of real and perceived problems, issues and situations. And I felt responsible for all of them. 


Alone in my room with God, a notebook and some coffee, I made a list of “everything.” As I read through the way-too-long list, I noticed a pattern. I was internalizing more things than I could manage. 


For example, some things shouldn’t have been on the list in the first place. There were issues and activities that meant a lot to others, but not a lot to me. The more I pondered them, the more it became clear that they weren’t mine to champion. There were also things that needed my prayer, but not my constant care. My heart was pulled towards certain people and situations, but I was being a fixer, trying to make it all better. I had to stop fretting and start trusting God to do what I couldn’t. Finally, I noticed important personal steps listed in my “to do” column: go to bed early, worship more, stop eating so late at night and put the laundry away. These were all mine to own, but the list was so long I wasn’t sure what to consider important.


Yes, I needed to realign my priorities. But what this process really showed me is this: I was taking ownership for things that weren’t mine to own.


It’s no wonder my emotions were so out of whack! My internal “check engine” light was on. Too many things on my list weren’t really “mine” to carry or care for, so my ability to function well was being hampered. My capacity was diminishing. My peace was under siege. My relationships were starting to feel strained. 


If you’ve been here, you know what happens when you take on too much without processing it properly. You become:


  • More critical and less encouraging.
  • More irritable and less gracious.
  • More tense and less joyful.
  • More distant and less present.
  • More skeptical and less hopeful.


When the edges of your wellbeing get frayed, it takes a toll on you and on those around you. 


But it doesn’t have to. 


You can keep your peace and the peace with others by adopting some simple, healing practices in your everyday life. Here are some that work for me. 


Keep it clean! Peaceful living starts with practices that keep you focused on what matters most. Eliminate distractions. Stop watching the stuff that creeps you out or makes you angry. Clean a closet. Take a walk. Do things that help you practice a life that includes plenty of time to refresh and recharge your mind.


Don’t make assumptions. Understanding is a gift you give to others. When you make learning a part of your everyday life, you reach into the lives of others and help eliminate ignorance and misunderstanding. Keeping yourself free from assumptions is a key to keeping the peace in your relationships.


Expect the unexpected. When you plan with the idea that things won’t go exactly as planned, you’re more apt to be patient and kind in the midst of disruptions and interruptions. Don’t let external circumstances determine how you react. Be okay with a change of plans and you’ll keep your peace in the process.


Speak the truth. There is no personal peace when you keep the (unhappy) truth bottled up inside. Instead of stewing in your own thoughts or compartmentalizing them, practice speaking the truth in love. You’ll build trust with others and maintain peace in your relationships when you address issues in a timely and careful manner.


Go to God! We saved the most important one for last. You may not feel like you can maintain or cultivate peace in a given situation, but God can. No matter how big or small the issue may be, go to God and ask for His power to bring peace to whatever you’re facing. He is faithful!


When you feel your emotions rising and peace slipping through your fingers, remember what the Bible says in Colossians 3:15 (AMP): Let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts. Go into the “garage for your soul” and let God do an internal check on your systems. Open your heart to Him. Ask Him to establish you in peace. 


Then, take your next step. Use this list of practices to help you continue in peace, every day.


Let peace rule in your life, and you will build life well. 


Until next time,


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