It’s a small phrase, but it can change our lives.
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
Have you ever wished that you could
stop thinking certain thoughts,
stop acting a particular way,
stop returning again and again to bad habits
so that you could be a different person than you are now?
You’re not alone.
Maybe right now you would have to admit that everything isn’t the way it’s supposed to be in your life. Sure, there are good moments, but there are also moments—sometimes there are whole seasons—when you just feel sick of yourself. That’s when you might have to say, in all honesty, that there are one or two areas of your life that aren’t good at all.
And that matters. Those destructive areas affect your whole person—what you tell yourself, what you think and how you act. Maybe one of those “not good” areas in your life is your weight. It’s tough for you to even walk up a flight of stairs.
Maybe your situation involves your kids. Whenever you say anything, they just roll their eyes, declaring that their world is cool and yours isn’t. Maybe all communication between you and your husband right now is negative or even nonexistent. Whenever the two of you are together, it seems like he just tunes you out.
Regardless of the specific details, the bottom line is the same and is quite apparent in those moments when we’re 100 percent honest about what we’re going through. In those candid moments, we might whisper,
• I’m a horrible mother (father).
• I’m a dreadful wife (husband).
• I’m not a very good example to others.
• I’m a bad employee.
• I’m an awful leader.
Your situation, however, is not hopeless. You know that a more positive way exists. You can see something better. Deep down you long to be the kind of person you admire. He or she has more patience than you, more joy, more peace or happiness, doesn’t quit, doesn’t lose his or her temper, never gives up hope. This person’s life is characterized by discipline and satisfaction.
But that’s not me, you sigh.
And that’s the problem.
A Jolting Solution
There is a solution to what you’re going through right now, although the answer may not be as gentle as you think it should be. If I were in the same room as you, I’d shout it as loud as I could. I’d shout
Just STOP IT!!
STOP IT! and STOP IT! and STOP IT again!!! (Is that a jolt or what?!)
Perhaps those are not the words you wanted to hear, but they do represent the simple truth behind solving so much of the yucky stuff in our lives. Life doesn’t just magically happen. God designed us to play a part in the way we change. We’ve got to stop doing certain negative things before we can start doing the positive things that are going to help us. So, STOP IT!
Stopping destructive thoughts and actions has the power to open up a life you think could never be possible. This good life, filled with meaning and purpose, is well within your grasp. To experience it, however, you must stop the bad on the way to starting the good.
This new way of thinking and acting involves two key components. The first component is our will. We have to firmly decide to take a plan of action, however small or large it may be, and then do it. The second component is that we have to depend on the changing power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God is ultimately the One who creates lasting, good change in our hearts and lives. Yes, God changes us, but we must play a role too. Neither component can be ignored. We’ve got to want to change and then take steps in that direction. With God’s power, we will accomplish what we want to change.
Can a changed life come about as simply as choosing to stop doing something and praying for God’s help in the process? Absolutely. As we learn to “catch” our destructive thoughts when they come to mind, we can take captive those thoughts to make them obedient to Christ (see 2 Cor. 10:5). When we adjust destructive thoughts before they take root in our minds and hearts, we can change the destructive behaviors that result from those thoughts.
For example, imagine an afternoon when you’re feeling down for whatever reason. You want to do something that makes you feel better. What are your thoughts? If you think you can never exercise, then you never will. If you think that overeating is the solution, it always will be. But just before you devour that box of donuts, you can stop the thought that has just lied to you and take it captive.
Just STOP IT!!! you say.
STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!!!!!
And so you walk away from the donuts. Why? Because eating an entire box of donuts as a way to feel better is always a destructive behavior. It will never give you the lasting peace, satisfaction or health you desire. So you adjust that thought. You know that the way to feel better is to take a walk or do something else that will be good for you and will take your mind off the donuts. What do you do? You commit. You lace up your walking shoes and let your new actions reflect your new thoughts.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it—almost too easy. It’s not. But it works. Our commitment plus God’s help can yield some incredible changes in our lives. That’s the foundation for what this book is about.
It’s also true that wanting lasting change and actually achieving it are not as simple as we may think. The body wants to do what the body wants to do. Seldom do we wake up in the morning and think: Goody, goody—I get to exercise today, or Yippee, every bite I eat today will be good for me. The apostle Paul describes this struggle in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “I beat my body and make it my slave.” In the same passage, Paul compares his life to an athlete who goes into strict training. He’s running a race to get a prize. He runs with purpose, he says; he’s not just running aimlessly.
So what’s our purpose? What’s the race we need to run?
Our race is to fulfill our life’s calling to be healthy, whole people who live lives of victory and purpose. Our race is to take a sincere look at our lives and to be able to say with honesty, humility and confidence
• I’m a good mother (father).
• I’m a caring and loving wife (husband).
• I’m an example of progress and growth to others.
• I’m a competent employee.
• I am the leader God wants me to be.
The mind-set that Paul describes can be ours, regardless of our level of athletic ability. What sort of jogger we may or may not be is not the point. The point is that we must want to change. The Lord knows that without a healthy life, we’re going to be miserable inside and out. To live a healthy life, we must be committed to the process the same way an athlete commits to a race.
Are you ready for that commitment? Sometimes change is scary, even if it’s good change. Typically, when we’re facing change, we surround ourselves with our habits as a means of protecting or soothing ourselves. When we start to change, suddenly those old protective devices aren’t there anymore. Sometimes even our identity is wrapped up in our bad habits. We’ve always been known as “the jolly fat person” or “the person who wasn’t able to chaperone her teenager’s trip because she couldn’t fit in a plane seat.” We may fear that when we change—even when we change for the better—we won’t know who we are anymore or that we’ll be asked to do things we’ve never done before.
And that might happen. Life isn’t as predictable as we want it to be. But our decisions in this area come back to our knowledge and confidence of God as good. What does the Bible tell us about our Lord? It says that God has good plans for us, and He wants to rescue us from the wretched situations of our lives. Romans 8:28 tells us that He works all things out for good. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that God’s plans are to prosper and not to harm us. But He’s got to have our cooperation, too. God isn’t in the business of twisting our arms, forcing us to do something we don’t want to do. We must be open to the Lord and willing to change for the better.
We can do this! A better way of living is well within our grasp. Our call today is to stop doing certain negative things before we can start doing the positive things that are going to help us. We must stop the bad on the way to starting the good.
As this book unfolds, you will begin to recognize that you want a better way of living. You’ll recognize that you can choose this path—you can choose to change. You’ll find that as you take steps to change destructive behaviors in your life, harmful habits can indeed be stopped. And you’ll begin to replace harmful habits with positive habits that enrich your life and provide health, purpose and vitality.
One of the key themes in this book is maintenance. Your dictionary would define “maintenance” as keeping something in an existing state. Have you ever noticed that we can maintain both bad and good habits? We can either maintain a decision to eat a tub of ice cream every time we feel bad or, when we’re feeling the same way, we can maintain a decision to phone a friend, walk the dog or read a good book.
Maintenance is a positive and exciting concept only if we are on the right side of the word. To maintain something that no longer works or, for that matter, may have never worked in the first place is ludicrous. Yet this is what many of us do every day. We maintain destructive thoughts and actions that have never worked and will never work, all the while hoping that our destructive patterns will change.
In the pages ahead, we will take a look at some of the broken areas of our lives that we need to stop maintaining. Our aim is to change those actions and thoughts and replace them with maintenance on the positive side of things. Replacing bad habits with good habits is just the beginning. One of our goals will be to build sustainable positive habits that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives. Once we build positive thoughts and actions, we will want to nurture and practice them for the rest of our days.
Since we humans are complex beings, we will also take a look at every area of our lives using the fourfold approach to living found in Jesus’ words in Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (emphasis added). We’ll examine each of these areas of life: Heart (the emotional aspect), Soul (the spiritual aspect), Mind (the mental aspect) and strength (the physical aspect). Think of yourself as a four-sided person. All four sides need to be balanced to keep things in place.
God is a good God, and when we’re tempted to follow the path of our bad habits, He always gives us a way of escape. First Corinthians 10:13 shows us this powerful promise: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
I will say it again: It is possible to change a negative behavior, but to do so, God needs our cooperation. That’s something I know only too well.
Have you ever noticed that God often creates ministries for us in the areas in which we struggle the most? It seems as though God knows that we have to be allowed to experience something firsthand before we’re able to speak to people in that area with confidence. Many times God will use the worst possible thing that could happen to us to become our area of ministry.
For example, author and speaker Chuck Colson has a tremendous ministry today with Prison Fellowship, equipping and assisting the Church in its ministry to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. Chuck is able to have so much positive influence because he was once incarcerated for his involvement with the Watergate scandal. He knows firsthand what it’s like to be in jail, and because of this, he can effectively and powerfully empathize with those to whom he ministers.
My “jailhouse” is dessert. I’ve spent a lot of time there—too much time.
It’s a habit I’m not proud of, but I want to be honest with you in sharing my struggles in this area. My temptation is not just any dessert: it’s specifically creamy dessert. I won’t go into prolonged descriptions of my craving, but let’s just say it’s very real. Cheesecake is my favorite dessert by far. It doesn’t even matter what type of cheesecake. Although some are better than others, I haven’t met a cheesecake I didn’t like.
I wish I could say cheesecake liked me in return.
My weight-loss journey didn’t start until my late 30s and early 40s. I had three teenagers by then and it seemed like my metabolism had slowly but definitely gone on strike over the years. I’m not a tall person—about five feet three inches when I stand against a wall—so a fluctuation of 20 pounds will make me jump three dress sizes. And jump I had.
I remember a day back in 1981— I was a year away from turning 40—when a friend’s casual comment stopped me cold. We were at a baby shower. My friend had lost 20 pounds—the same amount I needed to lose. When I asked her how she could lose so much and not tell me, she said, “Carole, we’re going to be 40 next year. You don’t want to be fat and 40, do you?”
Fat and 40. Now that had a ring to it I just couldn’t handle. So in March 1981, when my church announced the launch of First Place—a weight-loss program that not only addressed physical health but advocated and taught balance in all areas of life—I joined.
Now that I am national director of First Place, you would think I’d have weight-loss maintenance completely under control. Well, let me just say that it’s easy for me to go back to my old ways. All the poor habits I gained in the first 40 years of my life are still familiar to me today. I know the signs, the temptations, the tendencies, the rationalizations—all that goes into eating for all the wrong reasons.
Just last week, I found myself slipping back into an old destructive pattern of mine. My husband, Johnny, has been battling stage-four prostate cancer for eight years now. He’s done very well, but some seasons are just harder than others. Lately, he’s been having a bout with his gallbladder and was in the hospital for several days following his second gallbladder attack, needing surgery. During that particular time, he had a really rough go of it. We were in California when he had the first attack, and he was also in the middle of a round of chemotherapy. The chemo, combined with the two gallbladder attacks, caused him to lose 30 pounds. He looked frail and peaked. His arm was in bad shape from a drug infiltration and, to top it off, we had not gotten along really well with all of his doctors during this treatment. It was a stressful time—just the kind of time when I tend to get in trouble with my eating.
So there I was in the hospital cafeteria on a day when Johnny had experienced a particularly bad day. I desperately wanted something that would make me feel better. That desire, combined with being alone in a place that serves food, is not a good combination. I resisted at first. I had a nice, sensible chicken filet sandwich for lunch. (Victory.) I even passed on the chips. (Victory again.) After I finished the sandwich, that feeling surfaced again—wanting something to eat to make me feel better. Notice that I didn’t pray or quote Scripture. The thought had resurfaced and I did nothing to STOP IT.
It was a piece of buttermilk pie that did me in. I had seen it as I went through the cafeteria line.
Such a small piece of pie, I thought.
I ate it, I must say, for all the wrong reasons. Later, in the hospital snack shop, with the taste of buttermilk pie still on my lips, I downed a creamy candy bar in one fell swoop. The slope got more slippery the more I gave in. I never keep any bad food in the house, but on the drive home that night, I found myself searching for fast-food outlets, craving an ice-cream cone. Pie. Candy bar. Ice-cream cone. What would be next? This was certainly not practicing maintenance on the positive side of things. Johnny was having a bad day, and I was only eating to make myself feel better. I was turning to food for comfort and solace. I wanted creamy desserts to be my savior, but they would only be my jail unless or until I could say STOP IT! Can you see what a destructive path I had chosen?
I’ve written eight books now, and anything I’ve ever written about, I’ve had to live through first. I know firsthand what it’s like to wish that I could
stop thinking certain thoughts,
stop acting a particular way,
stop returning again and again to bad habits
so that I could be a different person.
I know what it’s like to need to stop doing certain negative things before I can start doing the positive things that are going to help me. It’s a lifelong quest to STOP IT, and I’m with you on this journey. My aim is to go forward. I know it’s the best way, and I know it can be done.
This is my promise to you: If you want your life to change, it will. As you learn to STOP IT, your new habits will replace the bad ones. Stopping our destructive thoughts and actions has the power to bring us a life filled with meaning and purpose. This good life is well within our grasp, but we must stop the bad on the way to starting the good.
It will take time—so be patient and give yourself permission to fail. But remember, you can do it! You are an overcomer in Christ, and you can say with confidence that God has something better for you than what you’re experiencing right now.
I’d like you to do one thing. Take a moment and imagine the possibilities of your life. I want you to stop looking at who you are today and start looking at who you can become. In every one of us, there’s a winner. Sometimes the winner is hidden, but we just need to find the key to unlock our potential. For me, the key is plain and simple obedience to Christ. When I ask for help, He gives it to me. Life is made up of one choice after another. Let’s choose to make the right choices today.
Will you join me on this path?
Dear Lord, I know that my life isn’t all it could be right now, but with Your help, I’m willing to start on another path. I commit to Your plan for my life, and Your plan is always good. With Your help, I know I’ll succeed. Thank You for always being so good. Amen.