A Week Without Wi-Fi – Days 3 & 4

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Go here to read the introduction to this series.

Day 3 Forlorn, Forsaken, Unconnected  9/4/17

Today is Monday, thus there was a mass exodus of people leaving to go home. The camp ground feels forsaken. I can no longer people watch as I did over the weekend, so I switched to spying on the chipmunks.

People naturally desire companionship. While we may enjoy some alone time, we will eventually find ourselves looking for someone to hang out with. The offer of instant camaraderie is what makes social media appealing. At first glance, it appears to be constant companionship right at our finger tips, but is it? Perhaps it is just a cheap substitute that only makes us lonelier and lonelier.

Since I have nothing to do (besides watching chipmunks), I have decided to give my brain some exercise. I have been reading The Christian Imagination on this trip. It is a very deep, knowledge packed book. Sometimes I struggle to keep up. This made me realize that my normal entertainment sources are very shallow. I am never forced to work my mind to understand a YouTube video or Instagram post. I need to exercise my brain more by reading books and articles I do not fully comprehend, even if the exercise leaves me mentally sore.

 

Day 4 – Enjoying Nature  9/5/17

Today we drove over to the reservoirs in order to get cell service. I quickly checked my emails (nothing too important) and then sat back to enjoy the scenery. There was a beautiful meadow brimming with vibrant yellow flowers. Several stately pine trees stood in the middle of the meadow. It looked just like a scene Bob Ross would paint. Then we drove down to the Little Colorado River. The river was gorgeous, but I was distracted from its beauty by a group of purple butterflies and a moth on the ground. I definitely pay more attention to my surroundings when I am Wi-Fi free. I also talk to mom constantly when I am phoneless. I think she is enraptured by all the attention I am bestowing upon her. Either that, or I am driving her crazy.

 

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A Week Without Wi-Fi – Introduction & Days 1 + 2

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We are now completely dependent on technology for everyday survival and entertainment. Whenever we enter a building, whether an office, church, or school, we check to see if they offer Wi-Fi. If the Wi-Fi connection is weak, then teenagers use their super sleuth skills to find the location where it is strongest. One of my friend’s pursuits for steady Wi-Fi led him to spend ample time in the church bathroom because the Wi-Fi connection was strongest there. Teenagers are especially dependent on their internet connection, but more so for entertainment than work needs. Taking away a teenager’s internet is like stealing their entertainment oxygen supply.

Teenagers have grown up in a culture infiltrated by social media and mobile technology. For as long as we can remember, smartphones, tablets, and computers have been constant companions. Being without Wi-Fi seems foreign, even unnatural. Our environment has trained us to accept Wi-Fi, mobile devices, and social media as normal and necessary.

So what happens when you take Wi-Fi away from a teenager for an entire week? How do they cope? When my family went camping in Greer, Arizona, for a week last September, I had the opportunity to find out. We were in a fairly remote location, so not only did we not have Wi-Fi, but we almost never had cellular connection. In the absence of my normal entertainment source (the internet), I had to get creative. During this week, I rediscovered old passions, reconnected with my family, and even found some new hobbies. I present to you, the diary of a teenager discovering what life is like without Wi-Fi. Here are days 1 and 2.

Day 1 – Peace  9/2/2017

We have just arrived at the campground. To my surprise, I feel a strange sense of peace. I am almost looking forward to having no internet connection. The week before this trip, I was checking my computer and phone constantly. I was incessantly seeking something new, but this incessancy led to anxiety. I feel at peace knowing that there is nothing to check. I can live in ignorant bliss for the next week. I have gone from a ping pong attention span to a one track mind. I will find other activities to keep myself occupied. I have brought many books with me, and hopefully the forest will offer some entertainment.

Day 2 – Alternate Sources of Entertainment  9/3/2017

I have made a monumental discovery – people like to watch people. That is why television is so popular: it is simply professional people-watching. This people-watching obsession takes many forms – you could stalk acquaintances on Facebook, watch celebrities on TV, or observe your camp ground neighbors. Since I am without Wi-Fi and TV, I am doing the latter. The kids across the road played tag last night. This morning a teen girl across the street appeared to be putting a long, rectangular box over her teenage brother. I do not think the brother was able to successfully escape his cardboard bonds. My fellow campers are tapping into their creative juices. Entertaining ourselves is fairly simple, but first we must allow boredom to set in. Tag requires no equipment, and even a cardboard box can become a game in the absence of toys.

Come back next week for days 3 and 4!

Seven Lessons Learned from a Sugar Fast

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I love brownies, ice cream, and Oreos, yet I refuse to eat them. Starting on my seventeenth birthday (March 26, 2017), I decided to cut out desserts and candy for a whole year. This fast has gone way beyond teaching me how to make healthier food choices. Practicing self-control in my diet has taught me seven central self-control lessons that apply to all areas of life.

 

1)    Give yourself grace.

We all make mistakes, but we do not have to let our mistakes define us. How we respond to them is what will make or break us. An all or nothing attitude will only lead to absolute failure, every time. When I went on vacation with my family, I made some allowances. I ate flavored yogurt and a blueberry muffin, which I had not allowed at home. However, I went back to restricting those kinds of foods afterwards. If I had seen my vacation time as a failure, I probably would have given up on my sugar fast completely. There’s no reason to beat yourself up. Just get back on track ASAP!

 

2)    Accountability is vital.

My family and many of my friends are aware of my sugar fast and, for the most part, are super supportive. Their encouragement has been critical during heated temptations. A few weeks into the fast I was invited to a birthday party. Of course, there was a delicious looking birthday cake taunting me. I almost caved, but my mom was there and she quickly pulled me out of that ditch. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Unity is power!

 

3)    Make the decision for yourself.

No one has criticized me outright for my decision, but a few people have expressed their shock. One family member in particular conveyed disbelief. She seemed to be concerned about my sanity. After all, only a crazy person would refuse brownies, right? If you know that you are doing the right thing, tune out any naysayers. You need to make the decision for yourself. Never allow other people’s opinions and perspectives discourage you.

 

4)    Self-control is built over time.

In the beginning, practicing self-control is plain grueling. The first few days of the sugar fast were miserable. I suddenly went from gorging on sugary foods to nothing, literally overnight. I was beyond exhausted and pretty cranky. However, over time I adjusted to my new normal. The cravings slowly became less and less demanding and my energy returned. As long as we persist, our resilience will grow stronger and stronger.

 

5)      Avoid detrimental replacements

I expected to lose weight on my new sugar restrictions, but the exact opposite happened. I actually gained a few pounds! I was of course confused. Then I realized that I had turned to carbohydrates, primarily bread, to satisfy my need for energy. It is easy to find cheap replacements for whatever you are fasting. Be on guard. You can undo all the benefits by indulging in something else.

 

6)    Do not be a rigid rule keeper.

I am all for writing out basic guidelines, but we may need to make some allowances and variations along the way. For example, I was originally avoiding any energy bars that had added sugars or chocolate chips. However, there is this one energy bar that has no added sugars (they sweeten their bars with figs), but sometimes they will have a few chocolate chips in them. I realized that eating the energy bar with the occasional chocolate chip was significantly better than the energy bar that had sugar as its first ingredient. The spirit of the rule is still there: the less sugar, the better. The spirit of the law matters; the letter of the law doesn’t.

 

7)    Your actions directly influence others.

My family never set out to fast sugar with me, but my fast has definitely affected their diets. They now eat considerably less sugar, partially because they avoid eating it in front of me. I never asked them to lessen their sugar intake: it happened naturally. Changing our own lifestyles can encourage those around us to change theirs. Actions speak louder than words. Often times our own actions are the best way to encourage others who are close to us.

 

Without a question, these restrictions have been well worth it. Building self-control isn’t fun, but the mess left behind from self-indulgence could ruin your life. If you know that you need to make some changes in your life, don’t hold back! Seek wise counsel on your decision, and then go for it!

Four Keys to a Lifestyle of Self-Control

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Self-control is challenging. I know this from trial and error. I am fasting desserts and candy for a year (I started on March 26, 2017) and it has taken every bit of self-control that I have. Through this process, I have learned a few practical techniques that allow you to work smarter instead of harder when practicing self-control.

  • Avoid opportunities to self-indulge.

A few times during my sugar fast, I have found myself standing in the pantry, staring at a bag of marshmallows. Many people dislike marshmallows, but I am certainly not one of them. If I am to avoid devouring mass amounts of marshmallows, staring at them for long periods of time is the wrong way to go about it! One of the best ways to resist temptation is simply to avoid. In a temptation stare down, you are likely to lose!

This technique applies to every area of self-control. If you always end up spending gobs of money at the mall, do not allow yourself in there in the first place. If your phone has an irresistible draw, then power it completely off. Avoiding temptation is vital in resisting it. Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”  When we don’t provide for our temptations, then they have less of a chance of winning over us. Also, putting on Jesus in our everyday lives gives us the added strength to defeat our temptations.

  • Create a game plan.

When you can’t avoid your temptations, planning out your resistance beforehand becomes essential. You need to give yourself instructions before the temptation comes along. After all, self-control is simply you telling you what you are going to do. Before birthday parties (or any other sugar filled event), I already know that I will not be indulging in cake and ice cream. Creating a game plan before faced with a temptation will increase your chances of winning.

  • When you fail, try again.

A few weeks before I started my current sugar fast, I had woken up on a Sunday morning, determined to fast sugar for the week. I started out pumped and excited. Unfortunately, I only hung in there for three hours. I definitely felt like a complete failure. That’s how self-control works. In our attempts to rule over our flesh, we will experience some failures. After a fall, second nature says to take on an all or nothing attitude. After all, if I ate one cookie, why not eat three more?

We must learn to have grace for ourselves. I have tried to eat healthier many times, but this is one of the first times where I have experienced long term success. In fact, the only way you can truly fail is if you 1) don’t learn from your mistakes 2) give up. That means that a “failure” isn’t really a failure! When you fall, it is the time to dig in; success is around the corner for those who persevere!

  • Use your energy and strength wisely.

 As we consistently resist temptation, we will become stronger and stronger. Temptations that previously held us at their mercy will lose their seductive power. However, it takes time to gain that ground. At first, even resisting the simplest of things can feel like climbing Mount Everest. The key here is to not resist fifteen things all at once: just focus on the one. While I am fasting candy and desserts, I have not banned myself from all unhealthy foods. Why? Because my resolve would completely crumble if I tried to live on kale and cucumbers! I would soon find myself devouring a quart of ice cream. However, I am able to save my strength to resist the one temptation.

Victory is insight!

We can triumph over your biggest temptations. While self-control does take perseverance and hard work, avoiding temptation and creating a plan make resistance a million times easier. During the process, we must have grace for ourselves and not overestimate or resistance strength. Practicing self-control is challenging, but not impossible.

 

 

The Nature of Self-Control

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I used to be a sugar hound. Marshmallows, brownies, candies, and cookies seduced me every time. In order to take control of this obsession, I needed a clean, hard break, so I decided to fast from desserts and candy for a whole year.  From doing this fast for almost a year now, I have learned six keys about the nature of self-control.

Self-control is messy, unpleasant, and painful.

Somehow we conceived the notion that controlling ourselves is supposed to be easy, but nothing could be farther from the truth. For the first few sugar-free days, I was absolutely exhausted. Everything within my body was crying out for sugar. Resistance hurt, and I was not a happy camper. Even though making the hard choice to practice self-control hurts in the here and now, later it leads to rewards. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Self-control is not an uphill battle the entire way.

At first, fasting can be grueling. Consistently saying “no” can steal much of our time and energy. However, if you persevere, you will quickly discover an adjustment to the new normal. Once you become accustomed to your new standards, keeping them is fairly simple. At the beginning of my sugar fast, resistance required all of my energy. Now, I can quickly fend off my occasional cravings. I have discovered that it is far more productive to fast for a longer period of time. You give yourself time to adjust to the new normal, which makes a fast less grueling.

Self-control hurts, but the consequences of not practicing self-control can be life destroying.

If you consistently lack control over your diet, you’ll end up with a boatload of health issues. If you regularly fail to turn the smartphone or computer off at a reasonable time, you will look back on your week to see wasted time and unfinished work. If you refuse to stick to a budget, you will find yourself in a hole of debt later on. Avoiding the consequences of self-indulgence is worth the fight.

Practicing self-control is like building a protective wall.

Proverbs 25:28, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

When the self-control walls are broken down, anything and everything has access to you. The self-control walls prevent you from eating three pieces of chocolate cake. The self-control walls keep you from staring at Facebook for two hours. The self-control walls stop you from spending two hundred dollars in one mall trip. Even though building a wall is never easy, fortifying yourself is a necessary guard against temptation.

Self-control brings satisfaction supreme.  

Having the power to say “no” to a previously powerful temptation is AWESOME!!! Talk about indescribable satisfaction! Being in control over temptation is wonderfully freeing. Take that ice cream and brownies; there’s a new boss in town!

We only have the ability to serve one thing.

In the Gospels, Jesus tells us that we can only serve one master. However, many people are trying in vain to serve two or more masters. Anything that controls you can become a master, such as sugar, social media, and spending. When we serve earthly things, we take some of our focus off of Jesus. We are now called to put aside our old, uncontrollable flesh and take up the new man. Galatians 5:24-25 says, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” When we depend on God to help us overcome our temptations, resisting becomes easier because we are given supernatural strength that we could have never acquired on our own.

In the end, practicing self-control is never easy, but it always leads to benefits and freedom. The initial period of time during the beginning of a fast can be grueling (believe me, I know!), but it eventually becomes easier to say “no”.  Self-control can prove to be fun, not only because it gives the control back to us, but because we are doing the right thing. Finally, gaining control over temptation frees up more of our devotion to be centered on Jesus.

 

 

What Tracking Time Taught Me about Myself

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Managing our time is arguably one of our hardest tasks, because it requires managing ourselves. Our natural behavior patterns fight desperately against organization and productivity. Thus, we must reset our behavior. Self-discipline and self-evaluation will highlight previously unknown behavior patterns and tendencies. In order to better utilize my time, I decided to write down what I did every fifteen minutes, every day, for at least seven days. Here are five things that I learned about my behavior from tracking time.

1)         I am more squirrelly than I originally imagined.

For the past five years, I have either taught or helped in children’s church. I learned that when a kid asks to go to the bathroom, they are most likely bored and hoping to escape their seat. Tracking my time showed me that I tend to escape my work and responsibilities just like the kids at church. I found myself periodically escaping my desk to go to the bathroom, snag a snack, or say hi to my mom – basically anything to elude my work. Before I decided to track my time, I was completely oblivious to this habit. Now that I am aware of its presence, I must work on taming my inner squirrel.

2)         My time tracker became my accountability partner.

Like most teenagers, I have struggled to control my social media usage. At times, I have maintained control through online blocks and restrictions. Unfortunately, as soon as those blocks were removed I would binge on the social media that I had resisted all day. When you are writing down every single task and activity, writing “watched YouTube” or “scanned Instagram” looks extremely pathetic. They are a blaring red blotch on a record of otherwise productive activities. Having a visual of where my time was going forced me to make more responsible decisions.

3)         I spend more time online than I originally thought.

Even though copiously writing down everything I did made me more responsible, I still wasted a shocking amount of time. On one of the first days I tracked, I spent about [gulp] six hours online. Admittedly, for most of these six hours, I was doing something else while I was online. While I blow dried my hair, I flipped through various blogs. While I ate breakfast, I scrolled through social media. Calculating my numbers, I only spent about two hours and fifteen minutes online while not doing anything else, and most of that time was late at night, which made me realize that practicing self-control when tired is especially difficult.

4)         My idea of fifteen minutes is way longer than an actual fifteen minutes.

I tend to overestimate my ability to accomplish something quickly. What I think will only take fifteen minutes usually takes thirty to forty-five. Even a simple task, such as washing dishes or folding laundry, can quickly eat up more time than originally assigned to the task. Before I started tracking my time, I did not realize my ability to overestimate, and as a result I would get frustrated when there was never enough time in the day to accomplish my goals. Tracking my time taught me that a real fifteen minutes is much shorter than my imaginary version.

5) I caught a glimpse of adulthood.

From seeing how many hours I spent on school, I caught a glimpse of how few hours I work compared to the rest of the adult world. I have eagerly been awaiting the time when I will start a job, but now I realize that first I must develop the time management needed to juggle school and work (without letting either ball drop!). With my previous work habits, it would have been unrealistic to try to hold a job. I realized that I need to build a strong work ethic before I apply for a job, rather than haphazardly throwing it together when I am in the thick of school and a job.

 

Tracking time is an effective form of self-evaluation. While it does require dedication, it bears an equal reward. You will find yourself more diligent, more focused, and thus more productive. Your most useful time periods will be revealed. You will also notice your least productive time periods. Tracking time forces you to be honest about how effectively you utilize your day, thus giving you the opportunity to strengthen your weakest areas.

 

A Godly Perspective on Fitness and Health

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 At the dawning of a new day, I grab my favorite pair of jeans and zip them up. I wince when I feel how tight they are. “It’s not like I’m super overweight”, I tell myself for the umpteenth time, “It just would be good to lose 10 pounds. Then these jeans would be comfortable again!

Ever had a conversation with yourself similar to this one? You aren’t alone! Many of us have found ourselves in this uncomfortable situation, struggling to squeeze into clothes that should fit.

Throughout my own journey of learning about fitness and health, I have struggled to find the balance between staying healthy and not obsessing over my physical appearance. I began searching the Bible for its insight on these issues. Here are four counter-cultural, Biblical directives on fitness and health that I discovered.

We should value fitness and health as a means to glorify God rather than ourselves.

In today’s society, fitness and health are often seen primarily as a means of becoming more attractive. Just look at the gym advertisements in your mailbox. They usually feature a fit woman who is wearing nothing but an exercise bra and short-shorts. Many people head into the gym with the aim of achieving the same look. However, this motivation usually proves to be flimsy in the long haul.

We should not exercise and eat healthily with the sole purpose of improving our physical appearance. Instead, we should treat our bodies with respect because God crafted them and the Holy Spirit makes his home inside of us!  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Don’t compare yourself to others.

Comparing ourselves with those around us is purely foolish and leads us down a path of frustration. Second Corinthians 10:12 has something to say about those who are constantly playing the comparison game: “But when they (comparers) measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” Body type and build vary immensely among individuals; no two people are exactly the same. If a girl tries to assimilate the clothing size and weight of one of her peers, she is setting a trap for failure.  I am absolutely guilty of participating in comparisons, and have finally come to realize that our bodies are simply different. Even in my most “fit”, there would still be no logical comparison. Comparison is futile!

Spiritual exercise is more important than physical exercise.

1 Timothy 4:8 says, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” While keeping in shape is important, staying spiritually fit is exponentially more essential.  Our physical bodies are mortal, but our spirits are eternal! Thus, while fitness and health do have value, spiritual training is priceless.

Most importantly, God cares more about the appearance of our heart than the appearance of our bodies.

While taking care of our bodies is crucial for a long and healthy life, building up our character and faith is even more vital. When Samuel went to Jesse’s house to appoint the next king of Israel, he naturally gravitated towards the brothers who were strong and handsome. However, God has a completely different outlook. In 1 Samuel 16:7, God speaks to Samuel, saying, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

In the end, we should endeavor to stay physically fit while keeping a balanced perspective about our outward appearance and the number on the scale. We should not be consumed with comparing ourselves to others. Instead, we should enjoy the beautifully unique bodies that God has given us. Fitness and health is all about glorifying God by taking excellent care of the body He has given us.