How to “Be Yourself” as a Christian (and Figure out Who “Yourself” Really Is)

Today’s post is inspired by two comments I saw/heard last week. The first was a quote shared in a Christian group on Facebook. The quote is from Dale Partridge and it goes like this: “The motto ‘be yourself’ has become Satan’s counterfeit to God’s ‘be holy as I am holy’.”

Since the tagline for my blog is “Finding our true selves in the people God created us to be,” I don’t think it will surprise any of you that I have a different take on the advice to be yourself. Before we dive into that, though, I want to tell you about the other thing that prompted this post.

I listened to episode 45 of the Awaken With JP Sears Show, titled “Radical Self-Discovery with Jator Pierre.” In this episode, one of the key topics they discussed is the importance of being able to speak “your truth” and the dangers that PC culture poses to that idea. “Your truth” is part of who you are and what you have to offer the world. It’s neither healthy nor socially desirable to have people silence that.

While I loved the discussion, the idea of “your truth” is a bit problematic for Christians because it implies multiple versions of truth whereas God is very clear that He is the only source of truth. But when someone talks about the idea of having “your truth” as part of being an authentic weirdo is that really something followers of Jesus Christ should freak out about? Perhaps there is a way to be yourself and be an authentic Christian as well. Read more

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Anxiety and the Endocannabinoid System

This article first appeared on MadebyHemp. One of their representatives sent me an email a couple weeks ago suggesting we could promote some of each other’s articles. I’d never heard of the topic for today’s article before, so I looked it up. There’s a system in our bodies that was discovered about 20 years ago which produces lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids that help the body maintain a balanced state. The endocannabinoid system’s primary purpose is to interact with compounds naturally produced by our body, and these compounds are similar to some certain compounds found in the cannabis plant. I haven’t tried CBD oil myself, but I do find the research on it very interesting, especially as it relates to anxiety.

 

Anxiety is a normal coping mechanism; however, in excess, it can be detrimental. More than just a situational response, anxiety disorders are characterized by a persistent and oftentimes irrational dread of everyday situations which can interfere with daily activities.

Forty million U.S. adults are affected by an anxiety-related disorder; however, the prevalence of these disorders should not diminish their impact.

Excessive anxiety is a central symptom of several neuropsychiatric disorders including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Anxiety is a complex disorder that can develop through various factors including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

Anxiety and Emotional Response

Anxiety is our body’s response to an emotional situation. Biologically, anxiety activates our “fight or flight” response to warn us of potential threats.

During such time, norepinephrine and cortisol flood our system to boost to perception, reflexes, and speed. These chemicals increase the heart rate, blood flow to the muscles, and air flow. With chronic anxiety, the response is never deactivated, and the physical and emotional effects of anxiety remain.

Anxiety and the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an integral role in regulating emotional response. Specifically, the ECS supports nerve activity that determines our response to emotional or aversive events.

An Introduction to the ECS

As discussed in a previous blog, the endocannabinoid system is a biological system responsible for maintaining homeostasis. The ECS is composed of endocannabinoids, degradative enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoids such as anandamide (“the bliss molecule”) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2AG) are synthesized, or created, by our body on demand in response to an imbalance. They interact with the cannabinoid receptors to direct the body back to proper functioning.

CB1 Receptors and Anxiety

CB1 receptors, which are primarily located on nerve endings, are one of the two major cannabinoid receptors. Studies have found the activation of the CB1 receptor produces anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects.

When discussing conditioned fear, the effect of CB1 receptor activation is complex; however, CB1 receptor activation can reduce fear and prevent the activation of existing memories from the past. Additionally, CB1 receptor activation protects against the adverse effects of chronic stress, which can lead to anxiety. For this reason, CB1 receptor activation has been studied for anxiolytic drug development.

Endocannabinoids activate the CB1 receptor; therefore, a higher level of endocannabinoids can be beneficial for those with anxiety-related disorders. Additionally, chemicals that inhibit the FAAH enzyme from breaking down anandamide increase endocannabinoid availability and are also being studied for their anxiolytic effects.

Living with Anxiety

There are many ways to manage anxiety; however, less than 40% of those with an anxiety disorder seek treatment. Still today, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness that discourages those struggling from seeking help. We can help end the stigma of mental illness by having open conversations about mental health, encouraging mental health education, and showing compassion to those with a mental illness.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an anxiety disorder, we encourage you to learn more about the disorder and the options for treatment.

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10 Mental Health Habits to Try This 2019

This article first appeared on MadebyHemp. One of their representatives sent me an email last week suggesting we could promote some of each other’s articles. I haven’t tried CBD oil myself, but I did some research on it when writing for a client and it sounds like something that really could help a lot of people. I also thought this post had some very good content about habits that can help support our mental health. I hope you enjoy reading it!

 

2018 was the year we saw a strong surge of mental health awareness. The public’s focus on health broadened to also include taking care of one’s mental and emotional health. People have finally realized that one of the keys to maintaining a healthy body is to have a healthy mind.

This coming 2019, mental health awareness will continue to be one of the bigger focuses on overall well being. Learning a few habits that will promote and improve your mental health will be a great start to your new year.

1. Exercise

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The secret to a sound body is a sound mind. But it could also work both ways. The secret to a sound mind is a sound body. It might not work for everybody, but for a majority of able-bodied people, a great way to boost endorphins is to go out and move. Find an exercise that you love. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. Some people prefer lifting weights, some like yoga, some even run marathons. Find that one exercise you want to stick with and run with it.

2. Gratefulness

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Being thankful for the things you have instead of focusing on the things you don’t is a good way of bringing positive energy into your life. It will, more importantly, make you realize you are lucky to have the things you do. Practicing the habit of being grateful will help you become a more positive person.

3. Be kind

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Be the person you wish other people would be to you. Make someone’s day by smiling at them, or helping them carry a heavy load, or even just opening the door for someone who has their hands full. A bit of kindness paid forward will cultivate a world of kindness. It doesn’t take much to make others smile.

4. Sleep

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Get enough sleep. Sleep can do wonders for a tired mind and body. Don’t overdo it though. Get the right amount of sleep in order to feel rested and ready to tackle your day, every day. Put your screen away close to bedtime and concentrate on relaxing. Give your body and mind the time to recover and recuperate.

5. Hang out with friends

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Socialize. Even the most introverted person has someone they prefer to hang around with. It does wonderful things to your soul to share your time with the people that matter.

6. Chocolate

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Better yet, try Therapeutic Chocolate with Cannabidiol (CBD) oil.  Cannabinoids are non-psychoactive and can reduce anxiety. If you are looking to incorporate CBD into your diet, but is not very much of a fan of its earthy taste, chocolate is the way to go. Cannabinoids are found to keep the body in neutral state, and support the functions of the brain, as well as the central and peripheral nervous system. Get your chocolate fix for the day, and get CBD’s benefits while you’re at it.

7.  Laugh

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When they said laughter is the best medicine, they were not kidding. Laughter helps ease stress and anxiety. Hang out with a funny friend, or watch a comedy show. Or maybe learn a few jokes and share them with your friends. Laughter is one of those things that multiply when shared.

8. Eat well

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A few desserts won’t hurt you any but for the most part, feed your body the things it should be fed. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. This will ensure your body will feel healthy and will give you less things to stress or worry about. Avoid things that will harm your body like smoking or excessive drinking.

9. Love yourself

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Tell yourself something nice every day. Most people are generous with giving away compliments to others but are stingy when it comes to themselves. Start your day by giving yourself a sincere compliment. It could be something simple like “oh my skin looks very nice today”. Or “I do make an amazing omelet.” And develop this into a daily habit. Because loving yourself will allow you to love others more freely.

10. Meditate

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Give your mind a chance to empty itself out of the negative energy that is pervasive in the world. Give your mind the space to breathe and relax. And as you relax your mind, you relax your body. Meditation is a great way to connect your mind and your body into one plane. It is a good way to relax and to relieve yourself of any stress that you may have. Meditation also complements therapy.

Working Through Cycles of Personal Growth

We often think of growth as happening one direction. Growing things expand and get older, they don’t shrink or get younger. If something is not moving forward, then it’s not growing.

But maybe that’s not always the case, especially when we’re talking about personal growth journeys. Growth like this doesn’t happen all at once or in a steady direction. Sometimes, a thing that you thought you dealt with will come back and needs to be worked through again. You often have to keep going back over the same ground in order to make progress.

This isn’t failure to grow. But it might look like it depending on our perspective. If we’re the type of person who wants to get everything right the first time, then it can be discouraging when we find ourselves having to deal with something we thought we’d already worked through. We might even decided that since we failed once there’s no point in trying again. But that isn’t really a healthy or helpful perspective.

New “Thought Paths” Take Time

Last year, I wrote a post about changing thought patterns related to anxiety. In that post, I talked about my counselor’s analogy of our minds as a big open field. As we live and grow, our thoughts travel over this field and we start to wear-down paths as we think along the same lines over and over. When we identify “thought paths” that aren’t doing us any good we need to create new pathways in our mind by learning to think in a different way. To do that, you have to keep going over the new paths again and again. Read more

Making Some New Paths In Our Minds

One of the more helpful (for me, at least) analogies that my counselor has used as we work on my anxiety is that we can think of our minds as a big open field. As we live and grow, our thoughts travel over this field and we start to wear-down paths as we think along the same lines over and over.

For example, little Marissa grew up in a safe, cozy home with parents who told her she was loved. So the “I am loved” thought-path got a lot of travel. It became an easy path to go down. But at some point, a conflicting message came in and it shifted the path. No longer “I am loved” without qualifiers, but now “I am loved by my family and God” because those are the ones who haven’t let me down or rejected me. And even though there’s evidence to the contrary coming from many friends, anxiety adds the idea “and no one else” to that thought-path.

Your Brain Can Lie

Your brain can be a dirty, rotten liar (to quote my counselor again). And while anxiety doesn’t look the same for everyone who deals with it, one of the common things it does is push your brain toward overestimating worst-case scenarios. You wear deep paths in your mental field that reinforce all the negative things and push positive ones off somewhere in the tall grass.

And so my mind likes to wander down the “no one will accept you as your full, authentic self” path even though I have plenty of evidence to the contrary. For example, all the comments on the post where I told you about my breakup and anxiety are evidence that my brain is lying when it wants to head down that road. But that’s still what the brain wants to do. And this is also how you can end up thinking things like, “no one appreciates my contributions” when there are dozens of people who love what you’re doing but those one or two people who criticize you become the only voices you can hear. Read more

As You Love Yourself

Last weekend at a Young Adult retreat, I gave my first seminar. And it went so well! Praise the Lord — I know anything good I write comes from Him and the fact that I delivered a spoken message in front of people without looking nervous or having a panic attack is a clear “God thing.” Since people liked it in-person, I’ve adapted my notes for a blog post to share with you today.

When someone asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the law, He gave a two part answer. 1) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And 2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31, WEB). The theme for the retreat I spoke at was connecting with God and others, and that’s what these two great commandments are all about. The first tells us how to love God, which is the foundation for building a relationship with Him. And the second tells us how to love our neighbors. Jesus says to love them the same way we love ourselves.

But loving yourself isn’t something we talk about very much in Christianity. We focus on the “love your neighbor” side of this command. If we talk about the “as yourself” part, it’s often assumed that you already know how to love yourself. That’s part of our culture, right? We have a self-acceptance movement and a focus on looking out for “number one.” If anything, I think most Christians would say we love ourselves too much. So we don’t talk about it, just assuming we know how to show love towards ourselves and that we can use this as a guide for how to love others. But do we really know how to love ourselves the way God wants us to?As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

The word “love” in the verse we just looked at is translated from a agape. This is a benevolent love that always seeks good things for the person who you’re loving. While it does involve feelings, it’s not what you would call an emotion driven kind of love. For example, if you’re giving a friend advice and one option is going to make them happy and your life easier, but the other option is clearly better for their long-term good, agape is always going to pick the better one even though it’s harder.

Agape is an incredibly important concept in the Bible. Of the 356 times the words “love” or “charity” appear in the King James Version of the New Testament, 320 are translated from a form of agape (that’s just shy of 90%). It’s so important that the Bible gives us a full definition in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8, WEB)

Let’s ask some questions based on this verse:

  • Are you patient and kind with yourself?
  • Do you let yourself get eaten up with envy, bragging, or pride?
  • Are you treating yourself in a way you’d consider inappropriate if you were doing it to others?
  • Do you get unreasonably angry with yourself?
  • Do you keep an account of the bad things you’ve done so you can use it to beat yourself up?
  • Are you dwelling on the unrighteous things you’ve done or rejoicing in the ways you follow God’s truth?
  • Do you stick by yourself, believe in your ability to do better, and hope good things for your future?

When I asked how many people could honestly say they’re loving and kind toward themselves in this way, only one person raised their hand. But when I asked, “How many of you feel guilty about the idea of showing love toward yourself?” about half the group raised their hands. That included me, which is why I actually felt kinda weird talking about the subject of love like this. It sounds a little selfish, doesn’t it? And we know selfishness is bad. So let’s take a moment to clarify a few things.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Real love never stops with yourself. If you’re the only object of your love and you always put yourself first, then you have a problem. That’s what it means to be selfish and self-centered. But avoiding selfishness doesn’t mean you refuse to take care of yourself. We’re to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, not abuse ourselves. If you never meet your own needs or do those loving things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 for yourself, then you’re going to burn-out. And God loves you way too much to want that.

To see ourselves and care for ourselves and others properly, we need to understand how God sees and cares for us. Most of the time when I hear people talk about asking God to let you see yourself the way He sees you, they’re talking about discovering hidden faults. And that is important, because we all know the verses that talk about our inability to know our own hearts. We need God’s perspective to show us where we should change and grow as we keep moving toward perfection. But if we want a more complete picture of how He sees us, then we also need to understand how much He values us.

The reason the two most important commands are about loving God and loving others is because God Himself is love. Agape is the key element of His essential character. But sometimes, even if it’s not something we’d say out loud, we think that God loves us more when we’re being good. We treat ourselves as if God’s love is conditional on our having already achieved perfection. But it’s not. Remember Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (LEB). The Father and Jesus Christ thought you were worth the price of Jesus’ life even before you were saved. So don’t you dare say you’re not worth loving now.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

One of the most interesting studies I’ve ever done was about how God uses the word “perfect” in the Bible. He describes Job as “a perfect and an upright man” twice at the beginning of the story (Job 1:8 and 2:3). We know Job learned and grew as a result of the trials he went through, and yet God could describe him as “perfect” with complete honesty before that growth happened. We tend to think of perfect as the best that you can get, but from this example we see that’s not really how God uses the word.

The Hebrew word translated “perfect” is tam (H8535). The word refers to completeness and entirety, but doesn’t necessarily mean finished. Rather, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says the root of tam (H8552; tamam) refers to someone moving “naturally toward that which is ethically sound.” Thus, followers of God can be described as “perfect” while still on the path toward perfection. God will take care of perfecting you – He just needs you to keep moving forward. God loves us even with all our flaws and weaknesses and ways we fall short. He also wants us to grow toward being the best people we can be in Him because that’s what leads to the best outcome we can get – having a relationship with Him that lasts into eternity.

Becoming part of God’s family is made possible because He is love. Having God’s agape directed toward you is amazing. The strength of that love has literally shaped the way the entire universe functions. It’s what motivated the Father to send His Son to this earth to live in a human body and become our sympathetic High Priest as well as the sacrifice that makes salvation possible. If that was the only kind of love God had toward us it would be more than enough and more than we ever had a right to hope for. But it’s actually not the only way God the Father and Jesus Christ love us.

One of my favorite Bible verses reads, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:27. WEB). Seems simple enough, but this word is not agape. It’s translated from phileo (G5368). According to Spiros Zodhiates’ Greek dictionary, the word phileo means “to have affection for someone.” HELPs word studies adds that it is “characterized by tender, heartfelt consideration and kinship.” Phileo implies having common interests or friendship with the object of one’s love. This type of love is one we can readily identify with because it’s what we feel for our closest friends.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Have you ever thought about God loving you like that? In the context of John 16, Jesus is assuring His disciples that the Father personally listens to our prayers because of His friendly, affectionate love for us and because of our belief on His Son Jesus. If you can honestly say you love Jesus and believe that He’s the son of God, then God Himself wants to be your friend. God is agape and He has that love for every person in the world. God’s phileo, on the other hand, is reserved for those He’s in relationship with – the ones who share His interests, believe in His word, and enter a covenant with Him.

All this love that God has poured into our lives shows us how we’re to relate to ourselves and to others. As John says, “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, LEB). The love God has poured into our lives shows us how to love ourselves as well as how to love others because we learn to see ourselves and others the way He sees us. C.S. Lewis touches on this in The Screwtape Letters. This book is composed of a series of fictional letters written from one demon to another teaching them how to seduce human beings away from God, whom they refer to as “The Enemy.” (I know that sounds a bit strange, but it’s a fantastic book that puts a different perspective on talking about what God wants for us.)

The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long- term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.

The thing Screwtape finds disgusting is a facet of Christianity that gives us great cause for rejoicing. God does not want you to hate yourself. He wants you to love Him, and your neighbors, and yourself all in a right and proper way. So, now that we’ve talked about what love is and how God shows love toward us, let’s go back and fill in some answers to our first question.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Here’s the list I came up with when prepping for the seminar.

  • accept the love God is giving you
  • take time for yourself to read the Bible, meditate, and pray
  • understand and find ways Godly to meet your needs
  • work through your stressful emotions instead of burying them
  • be kind to your shortcomings
  • turn the things that cause you anxiety over to God
  • push yourself to improve and develop your strengths
  • remember God made you human and gave you limits
  • Accept God’s gifts of rest, good food, and exercise
  • build good boundaries

Now here’s your homework. Make sure you’re doing these things for the people around you as well as yourself. For example, you could help your roommate with the housework so they aren’t worried about finding time to study and pray. You can be patient with the shortcomings of the people you go to church with and encourage them keep trying. While you’re taking care of yourself as a person who is incredibly valuable to God, remember the people around you hold the same value in his eyes.

In closing, I want to quote C.S. Lewis again. This is from an article titled “The Weight of Glory” (click to read the full text). Here, Lewis talks about the potential for each human being to enter the family of God.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. … It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

In 2 Peter 3:9, it says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (KJV). God sees the potential of every human being He has created to become something wonderful. And He wants us to see that, too. That’s what Lewis is getting at in these passages. As part of our expression of agape, we need to start seeing our neighbors as candidates for eternal life and valuing their potential as highly as we know God values ours.

A couple years ago, I was a funeral and the speaker said the man we were there to remember “lived his life as though it had eternal consequences.” That’s what God intends us to do as well. How we view and treat ourselves and others will have consequences that stretch far beyond this life. We need to keep our eternal potential in mind when we make decisions about how we treat ourselves and by extension how we interact with others. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I hope we now have a better idea of exactly how to do that.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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