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Redding, CA

Singer, songwriter, beard grower.

 

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Website and blog for songwriter Matt Stinton.

Breaking up with anxiety, or: What renewing your mind looks like

Matt Stinton

 

For years I’ve lived with a level of anxiety in my life and, for the most part, I would say I was unaware of its presence. After you’ve had something present in your life for a while, you tend to become blind to its effects. I suppose it’s because we just get used to things.

The Lord began breathing on this area of my life about 2 years ago and gave my wife and I a fire to see it broken off. It’s been a hard journey, to be honest, consisting of tears of frustration and long, difficult conversations on the couch. It has been, however, completely worth it. No one is meant to live with anxiety.

This journey first started with the realization that anxiety was present in my life. It had been a voice I listened to for years and had become so familiar with it that I had accepted it. But all of the damage was about to be undone. With the patience of my wife and the goodness of the Lord on my side (not to mention a few counseling sessions), I began to fight to gain back my peace. All of the momentum I gained over the previous 24 or so months was pushing me toward a single moment. The moment I broke up with anxiety.

It was a simple moment, really, perhaps even a bit odd. A few weeks ago, I was driving my car and felt prompted to call it all off so I did. I spoke directly to my anxiety and said, “I don’t need you. I’ve listened to you for a long time but I can’t anymore. I’ve made you a friend but you’ve never helped me. You’ve never made any aspect of my life better and I can’t live with you any more. As of this moment, I’m ending our friendship. You no longer have access to my mind or my heart and I will never listen to you again.”

There was no clap of thunder or earthquake to accompany this moment. Like I said, it was simple but I felt something shift and the first rays of sunlight started spilling into my heart. I felt joy and excitement where only hopelessness and fear had been.

Sometimes, I believe we become so used to a struggle that we actually become familiar and comfortable with it. We look for it. We expect it to show up. Whether it’s anxiety, shame, rejection or any other struggle, when this level of familiarity happens, we’ve made friends with something very dangerous and disloyal. It will never help us and will never add to our lives. Ending our friendship and dependence on it is vital.

Should you decide to end a relationship like this, fantastic! It might seem silly but there is power behind it. 

If the issues don’t fade immediately, it’s okay. Don’t freak out. There is nothing wrong with you and this is perfectly normal for two reasons.

Here’s the first reason. Our brains are fascinating. Science has shown that pathways are actually created by recurring thought patterns and trauma. This is why whenever you encounter a “trigger” you can find yourself reacting before you’ve even processed what’s happening. The part of your brain than processes logic actually gets bypassed by these pathways meaning that you react or feel an emotion before you’ve had a chance to assess the situation. You hear a certain word or phrase and you react. You get a text message from your boss and you immediately remember the time you missed that meeting and start feeling anxious before you even check to see what the text says.

So what does all of this mean to you? If you’ve dealt with something like anxiety for a while, your brain will naturally fire off the part of your brain that produces anxiety because it’s always done that. In essence, it’s become a habit of your brain. But the amazing thing about our minds is that they can be retrained to form new pathways which will break the association that has been made (you know, the whole “be made new by the renewing of your mind” thing). This can be accomplished by reminding yourself of the truth of the situation. That anxiety is a liar and that the Lord has promised to be your help in all situations. And you do this as many times as it takes. If it takes 1000 times every day, that’s totally fine. It will change. Your inheritance as a child of God is peace and a sound mind.

The second reason is that your mind is the most crucial battleground in all creation and the enemy wants to own it. For thousands of years he has preyed on minds—weaving just enough truth into his lies to keep people bound up by believing that things will never change or that they deserve to be punished. He tries to whisper those lies to all of us but they will only have power in our lives if we listen to them. 

So many of us go through life without realizing that we live with these lies screaming in our ears. 

“You’re not good enough to do this.” 

“This is never going to change and you’ll just have to live with this for the rest of your life.” 

“You’re going to be just like the person who hurt you. See? You’ve hurt people already.” 

Listening to lies like these will keep us living in the realm of anxiety because we will feel trapped and insufficient to break free.

My friend Jason says that you can’t be anxious and trust God at the same time and this is such a true statement! If you fully trust in God, then you’ll remember His promises over your life. These promises are designed to give you hope and will keep your head above water no matter the ferocity of the storm.

Hope is the biggest weapon against the enemy because it stands in direct opposition of his oldest trick: discouragement. You can’t have hope and be discouraged at the same time. They are opposites and cannot co-exist. Hope is the seed of breakthrough. If you have hope then victory is only a matter of time. If you don’t have hope, get some!

I can’t tell you what breaking a friendship like this will look like or feel like for you. You may feel something drastic, you may not feel anything at all. Not having an emotional response is not an indicator that nothing actually happened so don’t get tripped up by that. Often, we don’t live in our breakthrough because it didn’t look or feel the same way it did for someone else. If we don’t think we have breakthrough, we probably won’t live like we do.

Since I broke up with anxiety, I’ve had to remind it several times that our friendship was over. And, if it continues to try sneaking back into my life, I’ll just keep sending it away. Eventually it will get tired of not getting results and will just stop showing up. If I believed these persistent, annoying little knocks on the door of my mind were indicative of my friendship being still active, then I’d let it back in and stay under it’s influence.

Your mind is a battlefield. Love and fear both battle to be the victor and it’s up to you to decide which one will win out. Which voice will you listen to? The voice that builds you up or the one that tears you down? The one that promises life and freedom or the voice that tells you that you’re doomed to a life of captivity? The voice you listen to is the voice you empower and the voice you will serve.

God is about to change everything for you. Know how I know? Because that’s who He is. He is always turning night into day and winter into spring. He is a God of promise and redemption. Whatever you’re dealing with right now, He is bringing the answer. Not only that, but once you have victory, He’s going to give you authority over the problem you’ve struggled with. He’s going to make you a threat to the enemy and is going to use you to break people out of the same bondage you were in. How’s that for revenge?

Now, here’s your first assignment: believe that instead of the voice that tells you it won’t work out for you. You’re not friends with him anymore anyway. 

Summarizing a year, or: 3 things I learned in 2015

Matt Stinton

I think we've all been friends long enough for me to be honest with you, right?. 2015 was probably the hardest year of my life. I kind of hated it. Ok, not kind of. I actually hated it. I faced the most difficult challenges of my life. It was a year filled with frustration, anxiety, and a bit of an identity crisis, to be Frank. (See what I mean?) 

I was particularly grateful for my beautiful wife, Carla, who so graciously loved me through all of this. The way I see it, if we can get the "worse" part of "for better or worse" out of the way up front, it should make things easier later on. That's the way it works, right?

All that being said, I'm really glad that 2016 is here. Even though 2015 was difficult, I did learn some valuable lessons that I wouldn't trade for the world and I wanted to pass 3 of them on. Hopefully they'll help you should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Find the purpose of your season.

Regardless of what circumstances you are facing happen to be, God will use any season you invite Him in to. He's always up to something, particularly when you're having a difficult time in life. I personally don't believe that God is into sending hard times our way but I do believe He allows challenges to come our way because He knows the good that will come from them and that He can win with whatever hand He's dealt. 

Getting vision for what He's doing through your circumstances will put a fire under you and give you direction.

I really think the Lord loves when we ask Him questions. It means we're using the mind He gave us. Take some time and sit down with the Lord. Ask Him what He wants to accomplish through what you're facing. Ask Him what you can do to be successful in your season. Perspective makes a tremendous difference. Instead of feeling trapped by your circumstances, you'll see them as a tool that is refining you and helping you build a stronger foundation in your life on which the Lord can build. 

2.  Don't blame anyone (including yourself) or anything for hard circumstances.

In the grand scheme of life, it doesn't matter who's fault your circumstances are. The sooner you can get to this point in your season, the better.

Putting the blame on someone else will only frustrate you more and becoming offended with them is a guaranteed result of blame placing. Offense will keep you trapped in frustration, will prolong whatever it is you're walking through and will eventually make you bitter. You don't want bitterness following you through life. Bitter people aren't fun to be around and you don't want to be that person. Don't get me wrong, softening your heart and letting offense go is not an easy task but it's vital if you're going to be successful in your season. 

Putting the blame on yourself is another great way to stay frustrated and usually leads to some form of self-abuse. Did you realize that being hard on yourself is actually self-abuse? I challenge you to think of a time when you put yourself down that it actually helped you because I can guarantee it never has. Healthy self-assessment may lead to improvement (when balanced with a healthy does of grace) but self-criticism is destructive.

God is actually very particular about how we think about ourselves. I was on my way to work several months ago and I was being pretty hard on myself, telling myself that I was inadequate. My gloomy thoughts were sharply interrupted when I heard the Lord boom at me (I use the word "boom" because I can't really describe it any other way): "WHO TOLD YOU THAT YOU WERE NOT ENOUGH?" I was taken aback. I had never heard the Lord that way before. I thought about the question for a minute and finally had to answer: "No one but myself."

The Lord is jealous about how we think about ourselves. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. When we put ourselves down we are insulting what He crafted so carefully and so beautifully. 

3. You are more than what you do.

I wrote a blog on this a few months back but I want to reiterate it here.

In the beginning, God created Adam and immediately called him "good." Adam hadn't done a thing yet. He was good because God make him that way.

Jesus was baptized before He had performed any miracles and yet the Holy Spirit rested on Him and the Father said, "This is my Son and in Him I am well pleased."

It's clear that God's measuring tool for value has nothing to do with what we accomplish or the things we're capable of. If that's the case, why do we measure ourselves that way? I believe it's because we place far too much value on the things that we're good at or the things that have gained us recognition or acceptance. We even identify ourselves by our abilities (ie. I'm a songwriter, I'm the funny one, etc.). The problem with this kind of thinking is that eventually we will face someone or something that will threaten these abilities. Once they're threatened or even taken away, our world crumbles because that's all we know. 

Your circumstances may change what you do but they can never change who you are.

God is interested in building a multifaceted, deeply rooted you. Let Him invest in you. Keep your heart soft and trust Him to lead you where you need to go. Chase after your dreams but if the door shuts, it's because another one is going to open. God knows what He's doing. As my friend Steffany sings, He's been a Father for a long time. 

 

 

The power of words, or: How liking a little boy's shirt can change his life

Carla Marie Stinton

Hi.  

So, as many of you probably know, I'm Carla - Matt's wife.  We live under the same roof and eat the same food (except maybe one of us drinks more coffee and the other eats more chocolate...) and while those two things are the same, our work environments are completely opposite.  He works in Bethel Music's office (a land full of adults) and I work in an elementary school, where we, as the adults, are vastly outnumbered by people thirteen years and younger.  

I say all that to say this: most of my blog posts are derived from something I've seen during my work day, and very commonly, these things point me to the Lord.  Perhaps a better way of saying it is: the Lord speaks to me through children, which really shouldn't be a surprise - the kingdom is made up of them.  There are deep truths embedded in the eyes and mouths of children, and if I take the time to survey them, I would consider myself very lucky to be surrounded by them on a daily basis.

With all that said, today while I was about to start an intervention with a few students, one student in particular came into the classroom in full on tears.  Not just tears that said, "I'm screaming for attention," but as he started to unwrap his heart, I began to hear the words he was trying to say.  To save all of you the trouble of me trying to scribe his kindergarten verbiage, he basically said that someone on the playground excluded him from a group and this hurt his feelings.  The funny thing is, this particular child was actually a part of the group that the other boy was saying he was not a part of!  

To fast forward a few minutes later, I sat my group of students down (both boys are in the group at this point) and the student who had been crying was very much still crying.  His crying was the point that he could not even speak without trying to catch his breath every few seconds.  In most cases, a big hug and a sticker are usually strong enough pacifiers but not today.

We sat the upset child in his seat, and I then spoke to the remaining five children in the group.  I asked one particular girl how her heart felt while she watched a friend upset; her response? 

"I don't like it.  Why is he sad?"

I advocated for the child to his peers and we all decided that the best thing we could all do was "celebrate" him.  I'm not sure what other places would call this ritual, but while being a student at BSSM (Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry) I heard the phrase "let's celebrate him/her" a lot, and it was usually followed by people throwing compliments to the person they were celebrating.

My students said things like:

"I like your shirt."  "You're awesome!"  "I like you 9,000!"  "Don't be sad!"  "I really love you!  I actually like you!"

There were a few more phrases here and there and most definitely an apology from the offender.

It might sound like I'm making this up, but as this little child heard positive things spoken over him and about him, literally his whole countenance changed, maybe within seconds.  All of a sudden, he was hearing things over his life that weren't negative, or "you don't belong" but rather the opposite.

Speaking positive words over a child who may need help in believing the best about them can literally change their life.  Unfortunately, I don't know the home life of every student, but I do know the climate that I can control when they're in my presence.  It's funny how at the end of the day, children and adults, just want to feel included; to feel a part of something.  The major difference between children and adults is that children will voice this need while adults usually set up a corner and stay there... does that sound familiar to anybody?

Anyways.

How often do we write children off as little human beings who don't know anything; or that things don't matter to them until they're older; that they'll always be this way, etc.  And trust me, there are days where these thoughts take little to no time to cultivate, usually due to frustration or that one child who just tipped the scale.  However, when Jesus said, "Do not hinder them" I think He actually meant that.  

The beautiful thing about children is that they have no filters.  We never have to guess what a child is feeling or thinking, because their words are as plain as day and usually require little to no effort to unravel.  The beauty that children (while young) don't judge their peers based on color of skin or remember their malicious actions (usually) is an incredible thing that we could all learn a few lessons in.  They truly forgive and forget and what a different world we would live in today if that principle was alive and well amongst us.

If there's anything I'd love for you to walk away from with this blog, it is this: Remember the power of your words; remember that children are some of our greatest observers and they have a strange ability to feel when the temperature/climate of a situation has changed and that can strongly affect them.  To remember to love them and explain things so that their little hearts and minds walk away feeling as though their needs were met and that you are a safe place for them.

If we share and extend grace to children, they'll know what it feels like to extend it to others, and if we've succeeded there, then I'd call that a really good day.

Value vs. ability, or: Why I'm okay being terrible at basketball.

Matt Stinton

When we're young, we don't really care about the question "who am I?" because we're too busy climbing trees and pulling pig-tails to be concerned about questions of identity. However, there comes a point in everyone's life where we began to discover things that we were good at. If we were lucky, we gained acceptance from our peers for these things. All of a sudden, we became the athlete. The funny one. The painter. Or in my case, the songwriter. 

I remember writing my first "good" song as a teenager (and please do note the quotation marks). I knew that if I played that song at youth group that week the girls would surely be impressed. And I was right. The song was a success, drawing me comparisons to whatever singer was their favorite at the time. And so my identity as a songwriter was solidified. That was who I was going to be.

From that point on, songwriting became both my outlet and my escape. When I was inspired, I wrote a song. When I was heartbroken over a girl, I went home and wrote a sad song, seeking solace in the melodramatic words I scribbled in my college-ruled notebooks. What I didn't know then was how wrapped up I had become with songwriting. It wasn't what I did, it was who I was. 

I would imagine this is pretty common for most of us. We can probably all think of something that gained us acceptance in our circle of friends or at least something that gave us a sense of worth. Once we found it, we clung to it. We wrapped ourself up in it and hid there.

The problem with this is that when we answer the question “who am I?” with an ability (or a list of them) we have built a very shallow and collapsable self-image. As soon as someone comes along who is more talented, better looking or who simply receives more attention than we do, our world collapses. I think most, if not all, identity-crises are the results of this process because as soon as our circumstances threaten or destroy our self-image, we have no idea who we are. We have invested ourselves into who we want to be instead of investing into our hearts. 

I’m pretty bad at basketball. Maybe even terrible, actually. If I have the misfortune of playing a pick-up game with some friends, it’s probably going to be amusing to the other team and frustrating for whatever suckers got stuck with me on their team. If I play with someone who is much more gifted at basketball than I am, I’m not threatened by that. If someone tells me I’m bad at basketball, I’m just going to agree with them. I won’t feel like my world is falling apart because someone is showing me up or being blunt. The reason is that I don’t care about basketball. I don’t identify myself as a “baller” and so whether I’m good at it or not doesn’t affect me. Now, if someone tells me I’m bad at writing songs, that’s going to sting a bit and the reason why is clear. I am a songwriter and I’ve identified myself that way since I was a kid. 

Do you see what I’m getting at here? We tend to get overly protective of the things that make us “us” but we should never have to defend them. In reality, that’s insecurity. We will never feel the need to defend anything we have faith in. If we never develop a sense of value and identity apart from our abilities, our roots cannot grow deep and the first storm that comes along can easily topple us.

The good news is that it’s never too late to start investing into your heart and the best place to start is by identifying who God has called you. 

In Matthew 3, we read the account of Jesus' baptism. I'm sure we all remember it but the Father said of Jesus, "This is my beloved Son and in Him I am well pleased." The interesting thing about this is that Jesus hadn't done anything yet. Have you ever thought about that? In fact, this happened before He had performed any miracle of any kind. In other words, the Father wasn't pleased because of anything Jesus had done. Rather, Jesus' “doing” was birthed out of knowing He was a son and had already found favor with the Father.

To further drive this point home, let’s look at Genesis. After God created man, He looked and saw that it was "very good." He didn't look and say "Do these three things and I'll love you." He said it was good because He had made it good. He didn't need us to do anything to become pleasing. He was already pleased.

What this means is that God has never attached value to us because of what can do for Him. All of His pleasure in us is grounded completely in the fact that He loves us. If God doesn’t define us by our abilities, then why should we?

Our identity, first and foremost, is who God calls us. Our gifts and talents are all great but they are secondary to His voice. We were never supposed to get our identity from what we can do because everything can change in an instant. Jobs can be lost, opportunities can be given to someone else, inspiration can run dry. Circumstances can change what you do but they can never change who you are.