Belief Beyond Boundaries
The first degree in the 8 Degrees of Spiritual Transformation is Self Reflection. The reason I chose this as the first degree is due to the fact that in order to form a solid foundation for spiritual success, you should first address the things that can easily erode your foundation and your progress. Something to keep in mind, however, that all degrees should be practiced simultaneously. That is to say if you struggle in certain ways, you should still practice prayer, spirituality, good conduct, wellness etc. All degrees compliment each other, but if there are negative emotions, feelings of lack, health issues, or others, addressing these will only strengthen your progress in other areas. An example of this complimentary nature is how struggle can impact your faith or prayer life, but faith can also ease your struggle.
To help you prepare a strong foundation, I'd like to discuss with you today some of the ways that your foundation can be compromised from the start and how self reflection can assist with overcoming these challenges. I would then like to give some suggestions that can help.
Self reflection is very easy. It is simply understanding what your weaknesses are and also what your strengths are. As nice as it is to acknowledge our strengths, the hard part is acknowledging your weaknesses and admitting you need to change or find help. The silver lining is that as soon as you acknowledge what may be holding you back, the sooner you can begin living a fruitful life that glorifies God. So what are some of the things that hold people back from reaching their greater heights of potential?
Can I just say, first of all, fear is a liar. We all experience it, however. It represents the anxiety, past experience, and doubts we create in our mind about our abilities. You can overcome it. One trick to overcoming fear is this. Imagine the goal you want to accomplish as if you have already achieved it. Imagine the joy and overwhelming accomplishment you will feel when you finally get to where you are destined to go. Now ask yourself, is the situation that is causing you fear worth doing in order to take hold of your dreams? If yes, perhaps this is enough, however, if you still struggle with fear, you may want to do some research on how to practice overcoming the specific fear you have. An example of this is when I was younger, I had a dream of being a professional singer. In order to overcome my anxiety of singing in front of crowds, I regularly sang at karaoke nights for practice.
Self Doubt and Low Self Esteem
Self doubt and low self esteem affects everyone in different ways when it comes to accomplishing goals. Just as fear is a liar, these are additional fear mechanisms that are also great at making you feel like everyone you are competing with is better than you and that it isn't worth trying. This simply isn't true. If you truly feel like you are not qualified to reach your goal, this can be remedied by getting the qualifications or certifications you need. You only need to put in the effort. If, however, you have the same qualifications as other people and still feel like you are not good enough, then it may be time to ask yourself what is actually holding you back and address those concerns.
I can't say this loud enough. If you are not seeing the outcomes of your effort, it is almost always do to the fact that you need to "grow" by releasing self doubt, fear, and low self esteem.
Oftentimes, when you share ideas with friends and family, you may notice they bring up the fact that someone else is already doing it better. Stop listening to this. They are not in the same place as you and will never understand your vision and what you are trying to accomplish. One thing I try to remember is that I never have to be the best at everything to be very effective. Think about this. In every city, there are many restaurants serving delicious food. Of all the options, why would people still eat at low quality fast food places? They aren't the fastest, don't taste the best, and aren't even great at customer service. Some manage to absolutely thrive. This is because they managed to be good at something. The restaurant discovered a niche market and served its customers well in some way. You can do the same.
Depression, Anxiety, Negative Mindset, & Grief
Another factor that can affect some people's progress comes down to mental health. Thousands of people suffer with depression and/or anxiety, which can cause a lack of motivation, irrational fear, or even disability. If this is you, remember that there are a ton of ways to combat mental holdbacks. Spirituality, gratitude, exercise, counseling, medication, prayer, or coaching can all help. It's up to you where you would like to start, but wouldn't it be worth it if you could feel a sense of accomplishment from reaching your goals? In some cases, overcoming depression can be as simple as finding more order in your life and cutting back on energy sapping activity. For others, regular therapy can help a lot if lifestyle changes don't seem to help.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please visit the American Prevention for Suicide website for more resources.
Illness, Disability, or Health Concerns
If you are suffering illness or physical disability, it can be difficult to focus on anything else, let alone personal growth and development. Please don't hesitate to see a doctor if you suffer from something a doctor can assist with. For more chronic health issues, researching and implementing habits in your life that are proven to help may be a great avenue if it means the comfort you need in order to work on more fulfilling goals.
Anything that becomes an obsession whether it is alcohol, drugs, gambling, television, phone aps, pornography, excessive coping mechanisms, overeating, and even laziness can obliterate all attempts at improving yourself. Through awareness, support groups, self discipline, or a relationship with God, you can overcome any addiction that is holding you back. The first step, however, is simply the acknowledgment that you have a problem so you can begin researching and finding the help you need. From there, creating a goal-oriented lifestyle will help you reach the life you desire, a little at a time.
One of the most important things you can do to improve your life is to address relationships in your life that tear you down. If you experience abuse on a regular basis, whether it is physical, mental, or otherwise, it is very important to identify ways in which you can address this situation. People who are narcissistic, excessively controlling, jealous, manipulative, or abusive can cause another person, such as a spouse, friend, or even a coworker, to literally devote all their waking hours to serving the needs of the aggressor. Unfortunately, they will not break this cycle willingly so it is up to you to do this. Remember that you are valuable and deserve to live a life of free will in which you can operate for the glory of God. Through therapy, a strong support network, online resources, and determination, you can overcome this. If it is a friend or a relative you don't live with sometimes taking space is all that is needed.
If you or someone you know is being abused, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline for more resources: 1-800-799-7233.
Guilt, Shame, and Sin
If you feel like you are not good enough to experience joy or achievement, because of what you did in the past, know that everyone has things they feel guilt and shame about. I often think about the Apostle Paul in this regard. After being someone who persecuted and even murdered Christians, Paul later became a follower of Christ and devoted that life to the Kingdom. After all he did, Jesus, himself, thought Paul was still worthy of his love and forgiveness. If instead Paul would have turned from Christ out of shame for what he had done, he would not have accomplished all that he did, becoming one of the most preeminent apostles that ever followed Jesus and his work establishing the early church. My suggestion for you is that if you feel in your heart that improving your life would be a good thing for yourself as well as for the other people in your life, it is time to claim that and begin the work needed.
Whenever I identify something that needs work, I always start the same way. I first state the goal I want to achieve, do a little research, and then make a list of solutions. I then convert those solutions into attainable tasks or sub-goals I can measurably achieve.
To put this all into context, reflecting and acknowledging weakness is encouraged for mostly one reason; it paves the way for us to feel better and do more with our lives, freeing ourselves of that which binds us. These heavy stones are attached to us held by a thin chain we can choose to cut if we are willing to look for the right tool for the job. Once we acknowledge these things, we can begin to make effective goals that serve the higher purpose we are here for. As Jesus tells us in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." - 2 Peter 1:5-8