Shift the Focus

A panicked shriek broke through the den of otherwise happy sounds bouncing off the gym walls. I turned to see two boys sprawled on the floor, one of them red-faced and screaming. As I walked toward them, one boy picked himself off the floor, shot a half-concerned half-confused look at the other one (still lying on the floor and screaming) and walked off.

I crouched down beside the boy on the floor. He was clutching one hand tightly in the other. He was so upset, he could barely make a sound although his head was thrown back, his mouth was open wide, and tears were streaming down his face. I gathered him in my arms. “Did you hurt your hand when you fell?”

“I…want…mommy!” He managed between gulps of air. I hugged him tightly and sat in a nearby chair. The rest of his classmates played jubilantly around us. (I teach a 4-year-old preschool class, and it was very cold and wet from a few rainy days in a row, so we had our play time inside our gym).

We sat on the chair together while he gasped for breath and cried. I rubbed his back. He continued to hold his hand so tightly the end of his fingers turned purple.

“Let me see your hand. Can you show me where it hurts?”

“I want mommy!” He insisted.

From what I could tell, nothing was terribly wrong with his hand. I didn’t see the accident, but I saw the two boys running at full speed around the gym earlier, so I assumed they’d somehow collided and fallen. This little guy had put his hand out to catch himself or maybe the other little guy landed on this one’s hand. Whatever happened, he worked himself into a tizzy about it.

We continued to sit. Me rubbing his back and him crying, although not as fiercely as before.

After a while, I noticed one of his classmates (the same little boy who’d gotten tangled up with him just a few moments earlier) skipping past us singing, “Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Valentine’s Day! Do-de-do. Do-de-do”.

Taking the opportunity to distract the upset kiddo in my lap, I said, “Did you hear what he’s singing? I think he made that up. Have you heard that song before?” I made an exaggerated confused face.

My friend in my lap giggled.

The classmate made another loop. Still skipping and singing his made-up Valentine’s Day song.

“That is so funny!” I grinned at my injured friend. “Listen. He’s STILL singing his made-up song!”

The little boy giggled again, this time with his eyes and his face 🙂

The singing boy caught on to the fact that we were listening to him. He skipped in a tighter circle around us and sang louder, “Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Valentine’s Day! Do-de-do. Do-de-do”. He watched us watch him and giggled mischievously.

I sang along and bounced the little boy on my lap. He laughed loudly. His eyes were still wet, but his face was lit with a smile. He hopped from my lap and ran off with his friend, starting another lap around the gym.

Most anyone who has experience with children will tell you, if they’re upset, distraction is a good strategy. (If they aren’t seriously hurt, of course).

If you can get them to focus on another person (another kid playing and having a good time or doing something silly), many times, they’ll forget their minor scrap or bump or pouty attitude, and voila! They’re off playing again.

This is what God wants us to do when we get bogged down in our own lives – focus on someone else. He wants us to take our attention off ourselves and our circumstances and put other people and their needs first.

Image Credit: Knowing Jesus

When we focus on others, we forget about our own problems – just like my friend forgot about his hurt hand when he focused on the other little boy’s song. And that’s part of the point. So many verses tell us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, put others above ourselves, love because God loves and love because He told us to do so. (This is just a small taste of the verses that tell us to put others first). So there’s gotta be something to this logic, right?!

Image Credit: dailyverses.net

More importantly, putting others first puts God first. When we look to the interests of others before we look to our own, God is glorified. And that’s the WHOLE point.

What To Do If You Have a Critical Spirit

You’re in for a treat today – our first guest post on Servant Girl Stories. I am honored to introduce my friend, Leigh, founder of Be Still Mama ministries at First Baptist Church of Indian Trail. Leigh and I met about 3 years ago when she and her husband, Brian, joined our life group at church. Since then, I have grown closer to her as a friend as our journeys as moms have merged. I also participate in Be Still Mama and enjoy working with her to encourage and love on the moms who also become involved in the ministry. She has such a heart for moms of young children and desires to pour into those moms and help lead them to the foot of the cross. Please welcome, Leigh Anderson!

By: Leigh Anderson

Growing up in the cul-de-sacs of a few big city suburbs, riding bikes and managing sticker collections, I didn’t have much to be critical about other than broken sidewalk chalk or a missing New Kids on the Block cassette tape. Or the fact that we got to pick out one “sugar cereal” per month and my brother would eat the entire box in one sitting as soon as we got home. Those were my critical moments, until my life changed one day in the formal sitting room in the front our house.

It was late afternoon, our friends were playing outside, and it was the first time I’d ever felt my chest tighten and my stomach go into a knot as the word “divorce” came out of my parents’ mouths to my brother and me. (Divorce is just as much a part of my parent’s story as it is of mine, so I share this milestone with the utmost respect for them but as a pivotal point of brokenness in my life).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

The onslaught of changes was not gradual; it was abrupt, and life as we knew it was completely different for all 4 of us mere hours after that conversation happened. I experienced brokenness beyond what I’d ever experienced. And being so young, it was difficult to name it or understand it or tell anyone how I was feeling because I simply didn’t know.

We moved out of state shortly after that, and our new reality was unlike any I’d ever experienced. It presented more challenges than successes. That wasn’t only true for our family but also true within the new community where we’d moved.

Naturally, if people have something in common, that will be the subject of conversations. Our common thread was struggle, and it was mostly what anyone talked about. There weren’t people in our community coaching people to have positive attitudes, to talk highly of each other, to stop gossiping, to lift each other up, or to spur one another on. It was just natural to share the crappy thing that happened that day and who did it. Those were just the everyday subjects of conversations.

Slowly but surely as we lived our lives and grew up, that mentality of complaining or criticizing, something I viewed as normal and right, stuck with me. And I didn’t even realize it was something bad.

I didn’t realize all of this until a friend recently had the courage to shed light on this aspect of my personality and challenged me to really work on it. After talking with her and thinking about it for a while, a light went off in my head. I’ve known for a long time that I struggle with a critical spirit during particularly stressful seasons of my life, but now I know why. And now that I know why – because it’s been a part of my life for 30+ years – it’s time to make some changes.

In Be Still Mama, the ministry I lead, I’m passionate that we all find the root to the challenges we face. If we don’t dig straight for the root, treating the symptoms is a waste of time. When we focus on the bad in others, our circumstances, or ourselves we focus our eyes on brokenness, not wholeness. God’s will for us is wholeness, and we can only have that in relationship with Him. When we focus so much on brokenness, it’s what we ultimately become – broken in our relationship with Him – because we took our eyes off of Him and started staring at everything that’s wrong.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

We form and feed critical spirits within ourselves when we continue to focus on the flaws of our spouses, our children, our friends, or the people we resent. The resentment comes after they fail to meet the expectations we’ve set for them – my husband hasn’t lifted a finger around the house, my friend didn’t respond to my text for 12 hours, my kids won’t listen or obey and they fight all the time. It’s easier to tear down these people in an effort to feel better about ourselves than it is to compliment them on something they’ve done well or a character trait we really admire. When in reality the latter is the key.

My pre-programmed reaction for brokenness is to criticize and wrestle with how that circumstance or that person made ME feel. I made every encounter with brokenness about me, and that’s the total OPPOSITE of what we’re called to do with it. Big no no.

When we encounter brokenness, specifically in people, we have several choices. We can talk about them to others, we can criticize/judge them within our own hearts, or we can make the choice to see them exactly how Jesus sees them.

The reason God doesn’t want us judging each other so harshly is because we simply don’t know what we’re talking about. We see a sin; God sees the heart. We see an annoying behavior; God sees a stronghold. We see poor choices; God sees pain that they won’t let Him heal. Many of these instances naturally become a lot less personal because I’m making them more about God and less about me.

Learning this lately has been so refreshing. It also shined light on how damaging it was to my own heart to operate in a critical and negative way. And as a mom, if my heart’s damaged and I operate out of that place, there’s a high probability that I’m causing damage to my family.

Encourage someone today. Double points if it’s someone who’s recently really let you down. We encourage and uplift people as an act of obedience to God’s commandment for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. You need encouragement; you need forgiveness; you need to know you matter, so give that to someone else today. May we not love in an effort to see what we can get from other people; may we love other people because we love God – as simple as that.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Meet the Author: Leigh Anderson is a follower of Jesus, wife to Brian, and mom to two toddlers. She graduated from Newberry College with a degree in Communications and Sociology and went on to complete a Master of Fine Arts in Film/Television/Media Theory from Savannah College of Art and Design.

Although her plan was to sell everything and move to New York City to take a producer position at CBS News New York, God had other plans. Instead, she spent the last 14 years in professional ministry roles in communications and marketing. Most recently, she was the Director of Marketing and Community Engagement for the Christian radio station New Life 91.9.

After being laid off from New Life in 2014, she became a stay at home mom and through the inspiration and leadership of another Charlotte ministry leader, launched the ministry of Be Still Mama at First Baptist Church of Indian Trail.

You can find Leigh on Facebook at Leigh Baldwin Anderson and at the public group Be Still Mama.