Negotiating Freedom from Ourselves

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
-Philippians 4:6

We live in an expensive world. Keeping a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food on your table, and transportation available is not cheap. Heck, if you live in Michigan you can easily pay more every month in car insurance than your vehicle is worth! Whether you’re doing it alone or with a family, the expenses will pile up much faster than the income appears.

At this point it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder how you’re going to make it through another month. You watch the news and see a world descending into chaos and that just adds another form of stress to your already sleepless nights. Nothing would be easier than to give up hope and resign yourself to a life of hopeless misery.

How do we overcome this stress? I recently heard stress referred to as your mind holding you hostage. It seems an apt metaphor, as well as one that holds more weight when I mention that this line came from a former FBI hostage negotiator (Chris Voss, who delivered an excellent Google Talk on negotiating here). Wouldn’t it be nice to have a trained hostage negotiator settle our internal disputes?

If stress is our minds holding us hostage, it stands to reason that the best way to deal with it is through negotiation (I personally prefer this to releasing a SWAT team into my brain). How do hostage negotiations work? The hostage taker issues their demands and the authorities attempt to defuse the situation and bring everyone to a peaceful and swift resolution.

Our human nature is full of demands. They seem reasonable at first: a nice home for our families, a car that doesn’t require weekly repairs, or enough money to eat out once in a while. The culture we live in has taught us that these are perfectly normal expectations; it’s almost as if we deserve these things just for living. But when our minds’ take our spirits hostage, destroying our peace and ramping up our anxiety, these are the demands they provide.

We cannot break ourselves free of these demands anymore than we could dig ourselves out of our own graves. We need a negotiator.

Thankfully, Philippians 4:6 tells us where to find one. If I take these demands and stressors to God, He will settle the differences between me, myself, and I. Those sources of stress and anxiety are given to the ultimate hostage negotiator and He calms the situation, provides us with a better solution, and restores our peace. We are freed from our own chains by the One who knows our needs better than we do.

Another great principle that Mr. Voss states repeatedly: Never be so certain of what you want that you’re not open to something better. That makes so much sense I want to go through Proverbs a few times and see if it’s in there. We believe we know what we want, but our view is limited. We are being held hostage—bound and confined while our earthly minds make demands and endanger our well-being. There is no way that we can see the big picture from this position; we can’t even see what’s outside this room!

That is why we allow God to negotiate for us. We cast our cares on Him and trust him to provide for us whatever it is we need based on His perspective outside our walls, where a much bigger picture is visible.

Don’t be anxious. Don’t let your human nature hold you hostage. Take what you think you need straight to the negotiator and trust Him to provide what you actually need.

Even the best negotiators have bad days. Luckily we have access to the one who has never lost, so why not trust Him?

When Life Needs a Reset Button

“Everybody’s got a blank page
A story they’re writing today
A wall that they’re climbing
You can carry the past on your shoulders
Or you can start over.”
 – “Start Over” by Flame feat. NF

 First, if you’re not familiar with the song quoted above, I strongly encourage you to check it out.  NF is a great semi-local talent who is starting to blow up now, and for a Christian rapper from Gladwin, Michigan, that’s not easy to do!

Well I promised that I was going to get this blog going again, so here I am.

Eight months later.

Better late than never, right?

Life, as so often is the case, got in the way.  Work picked up, which was great.  Then work slowed down, which was less great.  Somewhere lost in the middle of the ups and downs was my motivation and my goals.

It’s made me think about how many times in my life I wished I could just hit the reset button and go back for one more try at something.  Have you been there?  I bet you’re either nodding your head or lying right now.

How many times has life ran us off course, only to catch our breath months or years down the line and say, “Wait, I meant to <fill in the blank>.”  The thing is, we still have the ideas and dreams, we just kind of forget to do follow through on them.  We get so caught up in living that we forget to live.

When I went to college, I wanted to be a writer.  When I left college (the first time), it was to be a writer.  After I got out of the Army, I decided to get back to writing.  Then when I lost my job, I decided to start a freelance writing career.

That’s a lot of writing time.  Or at least a lot of supposed-to-be-writing time.  Turns out, other than a few short stretches in there that resulted in a novel (Early Release), a collection of short stories (The Words in My Head), and the first generation of this blog (jtmichelsen.wordpress.com), my writing was largely confined to what I needed to do for work and school.

So, this past summer, I started writing again.  You may have seen that post, it took so much out of me it’s taken me eight months to recover….

But I finally realized something: life doesn’t get in the way, I just drive off the road (figuratively, I’m really cutting back on that when I’m actually driving).  I tried to put my finger on whatever it was that took me off the path I wanted to follow, and the only thing I could find to point at was a mirror.  There was absolutely no reason for me to stop writing.

Now I’m hitting the reset button.

I’ve jumped back into more serious writing and have a semblance of a freelance career going already.  Part time is better than no time.  But now comes the fun part: the time when my self-doubt decides to start whispering in my ear and distracting me.  I know I can make it, and I know I must stick out the hard times, but I also know my history.

That’s where the song I started this post with comes in.  Because I, like all of you, have a wall to climb.  I have a story that somehow has more chapters to write still.  But I can’t do either of those things if I’m carrying my past around.

I choose to start over.

And in case you’re in the same boat and wondering how you can start over after everything, let me share with you the second part of that chorus:

“Regrets, no matter what you’ve gone through
Jesus, He gave it all to save you
He carried the cross on His shoulders
So you could start over.”

It always comes back to that.  Honestly, every time I sit down to write one of these posts I tell myself I’m not bringing God into it.  The fact is, my faith is so battered and bruised that I feel like a fraud sharing words like this.

But when I sit down at the keyboard and start typing, it always comes back to Jesus.

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what kind of faith you have.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what your intentions are for the future, or how you feel at this exact moment.  Long before we were born, Jesus carried that cross and gave His life for ours, and there is no other way for us to have the freedom to start over.  Now we can live without life getting in the way.

I guess life does have a reset button, but we can only reach it from our knees.