2 Surprising Life Hacks to Try in the Middle of the Swirl We’re In.

2 Surprising Life Hacks to Try in the Middle of the Swirl We’re In.

We just came out of a very difficult and uncomfortable year and a half. So many of us are feeling all kinds of things…all at once.

We’re grieving losses and celebrating long-awaited hugs.

We’re ready to move on, start our “real lives” again. And also NOT. QUITE. READY.

It feels like a time of new beginnings…and one jam-packed with questions.

We find ourselves wondering: “Will what’s next be incredible or far from it?”

Basically, we’re swirling.

This time we’re in reminds me of staring at one of those Mac-computer swirling pinwheels (if you’re not a Mac person, it’s sort of like the Microsoft “loading” bar, but more colorful and swirly). As you stare at it, you’re never quite sure whether something good is coming or if the whole thing is about to crash. Which is never fun.

And unlike with our computers, it’s our lives we’re talking about. And we can’t just walk away from it.

At Winnetka Congregational Church, where I have the privilege of serving as the Senior Pastor, we’re a community committed to being honest about the realities we’re experiencing in the world and in our lives.

So, this summer we wanted to name this SWIRLING that so many of us are going through at the moment, open ourselves up to conversations about it and walk through this time… together. That way we can be there for each other in real ways, encourage each other, hold each other up when we’re struggling, celebrate each other’s joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, and help each other to continue to follow our calling as a congregation to seek justice, act with kindness and walk humbly on this beautiful earth we love.

That’s why, if you stop by our church building this summer, you’re likely to see a banner out front with this big question on it: 

What’s making you swirl? 

You’ll hopefully find pens nearby too, which we’d love for you to use to write your own answer on the banner. You don’t have to give your name or anything…this is just an open invitation to give voice to what may be the mixed feelings going on inside you right now.

Why would you do this? Because naming your feelings helps more than you might imagine.

It’s a great little life hack that’s based on recent neuroscience.

Uh-huh. Neuroscience.

One of the groundbreaking things scientists have discovered is that naming our emotions helps us bridge that chasm between our thoughts and feelings. It can take us from thinking what we’re feeling is EVERYTHING AND FOREVER to “Oh yeah, I’m feeling this RIGHT NOW.“ It helps us remember that feelings are temporary and that we are more than what we are feeling in the moment. Which gives us hope.

Researchers have also uncovered that not only can naming emotions help us make peace with whatever we’re feeling, when we do it out loud (or written with a marker on a banner, hint, hint) where other people could hear or see it, it also helps us remember we’re not “the only one.” We’re in good company.

When loneliness is being called by some an epidemic in this country, and there is all kinds of evidence that it’s really bad for us not only spiritually and emotionally, but physically, this small act of joining with others in naming your truth in this way can help us remember something we all need to know: we are not alone. And God is with us.

Another great life hack we’re trying this summer is encouraging each other more.

We’re doing that because there is a lot of evidence that encouraging others through sharing positive messages is one of the best things you can do for others and for yourself in a time of swirling emotions like we’re going through.

Nicky Gumbel once called encouragement “verbal sunshine.” What a great image, right? Whatever you call it, encouragement is basically infusing courage into others, something we all need more of. And guess what? Whenever we give…anything… to others, including something as simple as giving encouragement, it makes us feel better.

A Time magazine article on happiness reported, “Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable.”

Clearly the writer of Hebrews understood this on some deep level, and that’s why, so long ago, told folks to “encourage one another daily.”

So, to help with that, we’ve created some “WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT” notes, for anyone who’d like them.

You can find a free download here. Just print and cut out these affirming words – and use them any way you’d like. You might want to send one to a friend or put one in your child’s lunchbox. You could drop one off at a neighbors’ house (with or without your famous homemade brownies). Or slip one on a co-worker’s desk. You may even want to carry a few with you, just in case, you run into someone at school or grocery shopping who looks like they could use a little boost.

And you can sign these notes…or not…whatever works for you.

You might even want to print an extra set and put them in a jar on your kitchen table to take…as needed. Kind of like M&Ms, for your soul, with fewer calories of course.

So, as the pandemic is seemingly winding down and so many of us are taking some tentative steps into what’s next, I invite you to join with those of us at Winnetka Congregation this summer in both naming the swirl of emotions we find ourselves in and in encouraging others who may find themselves swirling too. And to do that in whatever ways work for you.

By the way, if you’re feeling a bit awkward about doing any or all of this – either naming what’s making your swirl or passing on little notes of encouragement to others, let me just encourage you:

“You’ve got this.”

Rev. Jeff Braun is the Senior Pastor of Winnetka Congregational Church, a progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive, justice-oriented and family-friendly church on the north side of Chicago. His calling is to share God’s word of love as spoken through Jesus, to make sure that everyone knows they have a seat at the table and to help us all recognize our oneness in God and with all God’s children.