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Ann Spangler's sensitivity to the ever-changing spiritual and cultural climate in which we live has enabled her to address themes of profound interest to many readers.
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If It Doesn't Work, Stop It!

If It Doesn’t Work, Stop It!

a yellow butterfly approaches some flowers

Imagine that you have made it your goal to get butterflies to fly in formation. How beautiful it would be if they could fly together like a flock of birds. You begin modestly, attempting to get one butterfly to fly in a straight line. Enticing it with nectar seems to work, so you try it with a few more butterflies. You pick the most successful of these and attempt to get them to fly in a straight line together. But as soon as you release your star pupils, everything devolves into chaos, with butterflies flying in every direction. Still, you’re not willing to give up because you can envision how great it would be if they could only learn what you’re trying to teach them. Every day you perform the same trials with the same frustrating results. After a while, you find yourself disliking the creatures you once cherished because these pesky insects won’t do what you want them to no matter how hard you try.

The point of this far-fetched example is that our efforts to control circumstances and people are often as misguided as the scenario I’ve outlined. We want children to behave perfectly, employees to perform flawlessly, and circumstances to unfold as we think they should. But our oversized efforts at control produce the same frustrating results. Perhaps it’s time to realize that if something is not working, it may be time to stop doing it.

According to Edwin Friedman, who is associated with family systems therapy, the most effective leaders focus on managing themselves in the group rather than focusing on how to manage the group itself. Such leaders strengthen the organization by staying connected to others without allowing themselves to be sucked into the anxious, emotional processes that often swirl around them. By doing this, they are able to lead from the inside rather than by trying to coerce others from the outside.

If you feel chronically frustrated at home or at work, ask yourself whether you may be trying to exert a level of control that is unhealthy and unwise. If the answer is maybe or yes, try redirecting your energy, asking God to show you how to manage yourself in the midst of challenging people. More


Image is Everything

an image of ripples in water radiating out from a perfect circle

The year 1960 was a watershed for political campaigns because it was the year radio lost out to television. In what has become known as the Great Debate, Vice President Richard Nixon’s deep, strong voice carried well over radio. Listeners were sure he had won. But the majority of the seventy million people who had watched the first-ever televised presidential debate named Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts the hands-down winner.

Why the difference?

Nixon had entered the debate exhausted and underweight after a two-week stay in the hospital for a serious knee injury and a hectic campaign schedule to make up for lost time. Arriving at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt tucked into grey suit pants and a jacket, he appeared bland and sickly against the grey background. He also made the mistake of refusing makeup, with the result that he looked sweaty and unshaven on camera. It didn’t help that viewers could see him wiping the sweat from his forehead.

By contrast, Kennedy’s navy suit looked crisp against the grey backdrop. Well-rested, tanned, and perfectly groomed, wearing makeup to cover up any imperfections, he appeared the picture of health and vitality. The influence of that one debate on the election was enormous. From then on, candidates and their campaigns have paid enormous attention to the image they project.

As Christians, we, too, should be concerned about our image. I’m not saying we should spend time and energy making superficial changes in order to impress people.

On the contrary.

The kind of changes we are called to make go much deeper and take more personal investment. They can only be made as we cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit. Remember that shalom means wholeness. As we become like Christ, we become whole. No longer suffering from as many interior and exterior divisions, we can more readily reflect God’s image in the world around us. Instead of being Christians whose woundedness and sinfulness alienate others, we can become people whose peace and wholeness draw others to Christ.  <a href=”http://www.annspangler.com/products/the-one-year-devotions-for-women/”>More</a>


Psycho Drama of the Moment!

a woman laughing

My friend Leslie is a school social worker. On a recent visit to a gift shop, she picked up a tongue-in-cheek guide to self-therapy, printed on a pad of tear sheets. The idea is to use each sheet to record clinical notes during a do-it-yourself therapy session. The first heading is Psycho Drama of the Moment. Underneath it are lines to record your notes. Then comes the heading How Do I Feel about It? followed by How Do I Really Feel about It? The next heading is This Problem Likely Stems From:

  • mother
  • father
  • sex
  • no sex
  • early weaning
  • original sin
  • basic unlovability
  • bad luck

I love the part about “Psycho Drama of the Moment” because if I’m not having one, it seems that one of my children is. That’s when emotions can really fly. At times, all of us find ourselves with people who are reacting in ways that are anything but peaceful. How can we keep our own emotions in check and avoid becoming part of a great big chain reaction of emotional instability?

In chemistry, a stabilizer is a chemical that inhibits a reaction that would otherwise occur between two or more chemicals. I like to think that humor can sometimes act as an emotional stabilizer, helping to restore a sense of equilibrium. No doubt all of us will experience our share of psycho dramas, many of which will not look half as bad in retrospect. With that in mind, let’s not miss the opportunity to step back and laugh at ourselves whenever the opportunity arises, mindful of Proverbs 17:22, which says in the King James Version,

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Let’s resolve today not to allow doom and gloom scenarios, our own or others’, to break our spirits and dry up our bones. More

When Mother’s Day Brings Up Difficult Memories

Two friends holding their fingers high in peace signs.

Sometimes we’re clueless about what’s good for us. We may, for instance, resist saving money when we think we have too little or refrain from exercising when we feel tired. But spending every last penny or making a habit of surrendering ourselves to the couch doesn’t usually produce positive results. Similarly, we can be tempted to spin a little cocoon around ourselves whenever we become depressed, anxious, or sad. Though it’s good to examine the issues that are troubling us, we can’t allow them to suck us into a whirlpool of self-concern.

Several years ago Nancy Guthrie was approaching Mother’s Day with the distressing realization that it would be the only one she would ever celebrate with her five-month-old baby, Hope, who suffered from a rare metabolic disorder. Determined to focus on the gift of her child rather than the sorrow she felt that her baby would not live long, Nancy began thinking of all the people she knew who had lost their mothers or their children, or who had never even been able to have children. And then she did something incredible:

“I made a list and went to the store to buy Mother’s Day cards. . . . It is not easy to find a big selection of cards for women who’ve lost their mothers or mothers who’ve lost children, so I had to improvise. But I sent out a big stack of cards. . . . Early Mother’s Day morning, I called a woman in my church who had buried her mother who died of breast cancer the month before. . . . Then at church that morning, I looked over and saw a woman with four small children whose husband had recently left her. I walked over and wished her happy Mother’s Day, telling her that I thought she was an incredible mother to her children. It seemed to matter. There’s something good that happens to me when I’m able to get my eyes off of my own pain and minister out of it to other people who are hurting.”1

Taking the focus off ourselves when we are feeling down requires strength and grace. But doing so releases the power of love in us, a power that can bring peace even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. More

  1. Nancy Guthrie, “Healing My Heart,” Beliefnet, http://www.beliefnet.com/Love-Family/Holidays/Mothers-Day/Healing-My-Heart.aspx.

Why Living in the Future Doesn’t Work

a fantasy future illustration of a boy on a beach at night

Have you ever tried living in the future? I have, and I can tell you it’s a flat-out failure. As a strategy for escaping or even resolving present problems, it simply doesn’t work.

Audrey Niffenegger is the author of a fascinating love story, The Time Traveler’s Wife. Like all good love stories, the main characters, Henry and Clare, have to prove their love despite all obstacles. In their case, the most nettlesome obstacle is Henry’s odd habit of slipping in and out of time. To complicate matters, this strange phenomenon occurs without warning and without his permission. Though such a condition would be obstacle enough for any relationship, things are made more difficult by the quirky fact that whenever Henry time travels, he does so without clothes. Whenever he arrives in his new time zone, which may be many years in the future, he has to find a way to adjust to his altered circumstances while looking for creative ways to clothe and provide for himself. (Remember, naked men don’t carry wallets.) Over and over, he arrives at his destination totally unprepared to deal with it.

This wonderfully strange story is a great parable for understanding why living in the future simply doesn’t work. We don’t have the resources for dealing with it. For one thing, we’re not yet the people we will be. Even if we had the ability to time travel, we might be unnerved by future events, little realizing that God intends to use the intervening years to make us into the kind of people who can handle them.

Plus, unlike Henry, our anxiety about what might happen will propel us into a false future, one that likely will never happen. That leaves us tilting at windmills, wasting precious energy that could better be spent on living fully in the present moment, which may indeed provide us with a better future.

By making the case that we can’t live in the future, I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan for the future in practical ways. I am only making the point that we can’t spend our best energies on worrying about what might or might not happen. That’s a recipe not for peace but for insomnia. More


Hiding the Word

a young boy on his bed reading his Bible

Several years ago I picked up an all-weather jacket at a local thrift shop. The coat was in great condition. Before washing it, however, I went through all the pockets to make certain the previous owner hadn’t left anything behind. The search yielded a five-dollar bill tucked away in an inside zippered pocket. Since I had only paid two dollars for the jacket, my thrift-shop purchase had netted a 150 percent profit.

Like the money tucked into the pocket of my jacket, God’s Word hidden in your heart can net an enormous return on investment. But how exactly do you hide his Word? One way is through simple memorization. If you’re like me, however, you might find that a challenge. I recall how amazed I was to learn that a friend had committed entire books of the Bible to memory while I struggled to memorize one short psalm. Once, I made the mistake of remarking to an elderly woman that I was too old to memorize Scripture. “Nonsense!” she shot back. “I didn’t start memorizing Bible passages until I was sixty-five!” Since she knew an awful lot of them by heart, my handy excuse was quickly demolished.

Surely, even the least mnemonically gifted among us (that’s me) can memorize a few Scripture passages. Here are a couple from Psalms to get you started. Think of them as little bullet prayers to put in your arsenal. Commit them to memory, and then start shooting them whenever you feel assailed by anxious, doubting thoughts.

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. (28:7)

Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord. (32:10)

If you stock your heart with the Word of God, you will find yourself netting great dividends, both now and in the future, helping you to experience more of his peace. More


a referee in a striped shirt makes a call

If first words have anything to do with a child’s destiny, then my youngest daughter, Luci, is destined for a career in sports. Despite my eagerness to hear her baby lips finally form the word mama, what came out first was the word ball. To this day Luci is fascinated by balls. Footballs, basketballs, softballs, baseballs, volleyballs, soccer balls. If it bounces, she wants it.

The first year Luci played on her middle-school basketball team, I loved watching the players improve as the season progressed. Though most of the games were marked by good sportsmanship, there was an occasional lapse. During one of the games, a player on the opposing team couldn’t keep her hands off her opponents. I watched in consternation as she pushed, shoved, and elbowed my daughter at every opportunity. Surprisingly, the referees never called it. After the game, Luci’s coach promised to file a complaint against the referees who had worked the game. Because of their inaction, a game that should have been safe and fun was anything but.

Though I am not a dyed-in-the-wool sports fan, I know enough to realize that a good referee or umpire can help make or break a game. With that in mind, let’s consider the umpire that Paul chose to speak of in Colossians 3:15. Reminding the early Christians of the importance of maintaining unity, he said,

“Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.”

The word rule in this verse comes from the Greek word brabeuo, which refers not to the rule of a king but to the work an umpire does at a game. With that in mind, you could paraphrase the verse like this:

“Let the peace that comes from Christ act as an umpire in your hearts.”

In other words, let it make the call so that whenever you have a difference with another believer, Christ’s peace will have the last, definitive word. More

Circuit Breakers

a woman holds her head in pain

Several years ago, when I was having the attic remodeled into an office, the carpenter doing the work discovered two inscriptions. One was on the brick chimney that transects the space. The other was on two-by-fours that had been hidden behind a wall of bead board. While the second one was signed by the builder, both inscriptions indicated that construction on the house had begun in July 1925.

Old houses are famous for their charm, even though living in them is not always a charming experience. Sometimes simple activities remind you of just how old they are. Take ironing, for instance. Whenever I forget to turn off the TV or the ceiling fan when plugging in the iron in an upstairs bedroom, the circuit breaker trips, shutting off the power. Though I think of it as an inconvenient interruption, the circuit breakers are providing an invaluable service, preventing me from overloading the electrical system, risking fire or even electrocution.

Likewise, in our own lives, God has placed natural circuit breakers that can alert us to the fact that we are on overload. Say, for instance, you are trying to get ahead at work and putting in loads of overtime. Or say you can’t give no for an answer when anyone asks you to do something. Or say you are spending every minute ferrying your children to activities so they won’t miss out. Eventually, your body will attempt to get you to slow down. Natural circuit breakers come in many forms, including headaches, fatigue, irritability, illness, and weight gain.

When these things begin to manifest, resist the temptation to brush them off as inconvenient interruptions. Instead, take the time to examine your life prayerfully, asking God to show you if your priorities are his priorities. If you sense the need to make course corrections, don’t delay. Your peace depends on paying attention to the natural circuit breakers that operate in every human life. More

Don’t let evil get the best of you

a purple succulent is growing on a rock

“Luci is really strong!” My daughter’s karate instructor sounded surprised, perhaps because with her slight frame and sweet demeanor, Luci is nobody’s idea of a bruiser.

Once we were in the car, Luci turned to me and said, “Mom, Lisa thinks I’m strong. Do you think I am?”

“Yes, honey. Remember when we were playing around in the kitchen last night and I was trying to fake some karate moves and you broke my hold? I couldn’t believe how strong you were.” She laughed, joyous at learning this new fact about herself.

I think we can make the same mistake in reverse when it comes to the biggest disrupter of peace in the world—the power of evil. I don’t mean to imply that evil isn’t powerful, only that it is not as strong as we think it is. Paul told the Romans, who would soon suffer persecution, that they could not merely resist evil but overcome it. How? By doing good.

Miroslav Volf comments that

“to triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.”1

In the world, we see this when one tribe or group of people commits an atrocity and the victims respond with retribution. The same cycle happens on an individual level, close to home. A husband lashes out, and his wife gives it back to him in spades. A child is disrespectful, and her mother goes on a rant about how vile and worthless her daughter is.

It takes strength to refrain from responding to evil with evil, but even greater strength to respond to it by doing good. If we want to enjoy God’s peace, we need to consider how we respond to the sins of others. Today let’s determine that instead of granting evil a second victory, we will deal it a decisive defeat. More


  1. Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), 9.

Standing Firm

A woman standing on a rock with her back to the water.

Imagine that you are sound asleep, when suddenly you’re woken by a large blast. You rush outside, thinking that a neighboring house has just exploded. But everyone insists that the noise came from inside your house. Rushing back in, you discover the source. A hole thirty-two inches wide and forty feet deep has just opened up in the floor. A little bigger, and your body might be lying mangled at the bottom of it, because the gaping hole happens to be located beneath your bed!

Sound unlikely? It happened to Innocenta Hernandez, who lives in a neighborhood just north of Guatemala City.1 Built on volcanic deposits, this area of the country is particularly prone to sinkholes. In 2010, a giant sinkhole swallowed a three-story building and a nearby home. The trouble with sinkholes, of course, is that although they often form gradually, they can open up suddenly, with disastrous results.

Listen to what God said more than 2,500 years ago to a man who was standing over a spiritual sinkhole, though he didn’t know it. The prophet Isaiah delivered this word to King Ahaz of Judah:

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (7:9, NIV).

A few sentences earlier, Isaiah noted that “the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm” (7:2, NLT). But Isaiah went on to assure the king that he had nothing to fear from his enemies because God would soon act. Unfortunately, Ahaz spurned the message, allying himself not to God but to a foreign power, which eventually led to disastrous consequences for his people.

Like Ahaz, each of us will face challenges that seem too big to handle. Confronted by them, we may even begin to tremble like trees in a storm. When that happens, let’s move away from the sinkhole of fear and doubt and take our stand on firmer ground. More


  1. AFP, “Sinkhole Forms under Guatemalan Woman’s Bed,” Google News, July 19, 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hEAjEe8vStGMOiswAxDcxXi_d_DQ?docId=CNG.832a4bd5d343e4861527751b5e0d9c50.ad1.