Ep. 209: Building a Life of Purpose
When you look at your life, how do you describe it? Do you compare your life to the world’s standards or to God’s? On this week’s episode of indoubt, Rebekah Lyons joins us and shares her personal story of overcoming anxiety and panic attacks and discusses the limitations we often place on ourselves based on who culture says we are. By implementing rhythms and routines, Rebekah stresses that our physical and mental health and our relationship with Christ will ultimately benefit. And you’ll hear Joshua and Rebekah dig deeper into each rhythm that Rebekah suggests: rest, restore, connect and create (to build a life of peace, passion, and purpose).
Welcome to the indoubt Podcast where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week, we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life, and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s Word. For more info on indoubt visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com
Hey everyone, it’s Kourtney. I’m so happy that you’re joining us for another episode of indoubt. This week we’re joined by best-selling author and speaker Rebekah Lyons, and it’s so good to have her with us. She shares about her personal journey with anxiety and panic attacks and her renewal with God throughout that time. Joshua and Rebekah discussed the rhythms and routines that Rebekah suggests to ultimately lead to a life filled with peace, passion, and purpose. So, I hope that you enjoyed this episode with Joshua and Rebekah Lyons.
Hey, welcome to indoubt. My name’s Joshua and I’m your host today and today we’re going to tackle what’s becoming an increasingly prevalent and oftentimes paralyzing reality in our world today, and that’s the reality of stress and anxiety. More and more, I have conversations with people who are saying they wrestle with this, that they’re struggling with this, that they long for peace. We know in the end that biblically the reality is the satisfying peace that we long for will only ever come from God, right?
We have John 14, Jesus speaking to His disciples, He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you not as the world gives. So, let not your hearts be troubled.” And we have the fruit of the spirit. Galatians 5, right? Love, joy, peace, and the favourite memory scripture – Philippians 4, right? “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”
In the end, peace, lasting peace comes from God. Today, I’m joined by Rebekah Lyons, who is a national speaker, a best-selling author, and she’s the brave mother of four children, two of whom have Down syndrome. God has blessed her with this unique adventure. But she’s also recently written a book called Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose.
And in her book, she gives some real practical ways for us to develop these rhythms into our lives that will enable us to step away from the anxiety and the stress, and step into the peace that God intends for us to enjoy. So Rebekah, thanks so much for joining us today.
Oh, thank you for having me.
So I wonder if you could just start by telling us a little about yourself and how you came to know the Lord.
Oh goodness. Well, I was raised in a Christian home, meaning my parents were believers when I was born. I accepted Christ at a young age. Of course, like a lot of five-year-old’s, we’re not really sure what we’re being saved from beyond the fact that we believe sin is real and we know that Jesus is real. So, I think in that youthful place, I knew that the message was true.
I believe that it was true even from a young age that He loved me and came to buy my freedom and that I could follow Him. It would take 30 years after that or 30 years later I would actually come to know the rescue of God, the deliverance of God, the power of His nearness and presence and that was really after we had moved to New York City in 2010.
I started to spiral with panic disorder, about four months in panic attacks on planes, trains, elevators, subways, and crowds. We had just moved there from the suburbs of the South and we lost, or we had sold most of what we had and just were kind of just thrust into the great unknown and I guess New York was a pressure cooker that pushed that to the surface. That lasted for about over a year and then slowly walked out a healing journey when I cried out to God for rescue.
As a result, we’re at the turn of a decade right now, as we all know, so I’ve been reflecting on this lately and realize that the year 2000 to 2010 was all about motherhood for me. I had my first born at 26, found out six hours later he had signs of Down syndrome and that was confirmed genetic testing a week later.
So at 26, changed the trajectory of my life, but then moving to New York, nine years later did the same. This last decade has been all about vocation and it will have been year 2010 move to New York, but also just really understanding in this decade, how pain can become purpose if you let it and surrender to it, submit to it, knowing that when God says, “Walk through the valley of shadow of death.” You don’t need to fear evil because He’s with us and He comforts us. I think that’s been the biggest lesson for me.
Even this book begins with the first panic attack in seven years that I had just had when I wrote this book and it was kind of a whisper relapse quite frankly. Even the lesson in that was a grace that God just promised, “I don’t promise that fear will come knocking this side of eternity, but I always make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it.”
For me, the rooting of my anxiety, anxiety became my fancy new word for fear. But the rooting of that for me was feeling trapped or claustrophobic. It was a metaphorical thing probably that became literal. When I was finding myself really confined in small spaces. So, it’s different for everybody that the triggers that stress them, that get them to this place of a heightened fight or flight response and anxiousness of fear, physical symptoms of stress. Right now, we’ve got 77% almost four out of five of us in society facing that.
So it is now a national conversation. It’s an epidemic of some sort of us feeling strung out. And I really do believe it’s an invitation to come into His rest. And rest requires pursuit. It’s not escape, it’s not numbing out. It’s not apathy, it’s actually restorative. And so, it requires intention, which means you have to stop the frantic running hamster wheel and just decide to be still and know that He is God. And that He is God – you are not, and you can try, and you can trust Him. So, it’s been a decade of learning that in a slow and steady way.
Hmm. So, you just noted there this rise of anxiety and stress that’s going on in our society. Why do you think that is? Why is this becoming such an epidemic? You said.
Well, we were always a people of rhythm before the industrial and technological revolution. So, we had to operate with a circadian rhythm until we created machines and electricity that told us we can actually operate in hours beyond what humanity was designed. God gave us a sunrise that emits blue light. It tells us to wake up. At sunset that emits red light, that tells us to go to sleep. It’s actual natural melatonin for our bodies.
But instead of adhering to those boundaries, we have a phone in our hands emitting blue light until midnight telling us to wake up, wake up, wake up and we wonder why we don’t sleep anymore. There’s so many factors, but I would say that’s probably the biggest one is that all of a sudden, the lines between boundaries and rhythm and day and night were blurred. And when you’ve got factories with machines that are always on out of efficiency and production, it actually costs more to turn them off overnight. So, they just would stay running nonstop.
It creates this culture in humanity where it is affirmed to be always on, as if we’re machines. And the truth is you get raises and you get positions and promotions, and celebrations when you’re working harder. And there’s a lot of culture where that’s really revered and quite frankly, we’re just buckling under that physically because our bodies are keeping the score and are telling us that that’s actually not human. That’s a machine, that’s not a human. I think right now we’re just all burned out.
And then you add to that, you compound that with a smartphone that we’re relationally core, right? That so many of our relationships are transactional because we only have time for work. And maybe some family. Friendships are usually sidelined a little bit because we just don’t have margin or capacity. I hate even talking this way because it feels like Debbie Downer, but I guess you can’t heal what is hidden. So, it’s best to kind of not only talk about the fact that we’re able to talk about mental health now finally. But we also need to talk about the reasons why and the implications of those reasons and how important it is for us to take a reset and we can’t if we’re not informed.
Right. So, in your book you’re talking about how we’ve moved away from the rhythm that we ought to, that we were intended for. So, in your book you outlined four rhythms and you talk about how they actually, there’s this progression. We move from one into to the next, into the next and into the next. So, could you outline these rhythms for us and just how that movement happens? How do we move from one into the next?
Yes, they build on each other. So, there’s the input rhythms are the first two and the output rhythms are the last two. Because you can’t give what you haven’t received. But that’s what everyone’s trying to do. Everyone wants to hang in the Create rhythm, which is the last one, which is the culmination. If it’s done well, it’s actually the culmination of all three rhythms strengthening, so that Create can actually be the flourishing that it promises. It’s measurable, it’s the outcome. It’s the active ingredient that people observe and go, “Wow, you’re doing so much.”
It’s like, “No, that’s actually just the cherry on top.” Because I’ve been really intentional about resting on my inner life being healthy and restoring my physical life being healthy for energy and connecting my relational life being healthy so that I can actually work with the people I love and it’s not just transaction. So that Create can then become the fruitful abundance or gift of vocation that we were actually made to offer the world.
I think what happens is we just jumped to Create and we’re burned out and we don’t talk to our people, and our bodies aren’t just like we’re just filling our bodies with crap diets and we’re not paying attention to actually do signals so we’re sick and then sometimes as a result of being sick, we’re just doubling down on all the quick fixes we can find to help us in our sicknesses versus getting to the roots of going, what is triggering all this? Why am I running so hard? What am I running from and what am I looking for?
I even think of the chronic scrolling on a phone. The question I would ask is what are you looking for? Because it’s just a scroll. It’s like this mindless scroll. It is never satisfied. And then on the other end, it’s also a way to run from problems, confusion, pain, ambiguity. It’s like I’d rather just be busy than have to actually face why I feel lost when I’m still. So that’s why counselling is flourishing right now because at least people are willing to invest here and when they’re willing to invest, that means they’re serious.
And I feel optimistic. I really do. I think things have to get dark before they resurrect. I’m hopeful. I feel like if one by one by one we could actually make changes in our lives, then we become these living testimonies as this public witness of going, “Hey, I took three months off social media and I started sleeping again, dreaming again and learning again. So, there’s something.” Offer it out there. I started having original ideas that weren’t comparing, trying to copy what somebody else was doing or I found that when I got still before God and stopped seeing my worth by my latest accomplishment, I felt the love. I felt seen and known as a daughter or a son of God.
The paradigm has to shift a little bit from all the big things we can do for God to all the small and simple ways we can receive from God.
Ooh, that’s good.
And when we do that, we start to delight in just His nature and His character, and He delights in our child-like faith.
That’s really good. So, the first of all these rhythms where you say it all starts, is the input rhythm, you call it, of Rest. So how do we rest? What are some really practical ways? Because when I think rest, and I think maybe this is most of us; I’ll go through a strong day, a busy day and then I’ll think, “Okay, I just need a power nap.” I need a quick 15 minutes, get down, wake up, go back to work. Is it more than that?
Yeah, I mean physical rest is great. Trust me. I think napping 101 should be back in our culture ASAP. Because people did that in centuries before us politicians, presidents, theologians. I mean if you read some of these works of people a couple 100 years ago, napping was very regular. So yeah, I think a power nap is great. The problem is, is like are you mentally resting? I think that’s actually… Is the heart resting?
So to me, Rest represents so much more than the physical symptom of rest. It’s the inner life. Am I okay? Is my soul at rest? Do I have soul rest that I’m okay with who I am, and God and I are good? We’re not hiding or running. There’s an intimacy and communion that is forged when we come into His rest. So, Rest requires pursuit.
It’s not optional or apathetic, but it is intended for intimacy. It’s intended for communal relationship. I can take a Tylenol PM and have a good night’s sleep, but that’s not affecting my inner life. Am I actually being still before the Lord? Am I enjoying Him? Like, His presence and His nearness? Is the Holy Spirit have time to convict? There’s a chapter, Examine and Confess. There’s a real regular rhythm of just going, “God search me and know my heart, test me on my anxious thoughts. See if there’s anything wicked and lead me in the way everlasting.”
That Psalm of David is a reminder to all of us that we are supposed to ask the Holy Spirit to search us and test our anxious thoughts because anxious thoughts, again, even back then, is just a withholding of trust.
So what would be some practical ways then to not just rest physically, but to get that soul rest that you’re talking about? Actual enjoyment?
So I have a chapter called, Morning Routine. So, I have it in the Rest rhythm, I write seven chapters and they’re very pragmatic, practical because I am all about what are the small intentional things we can do. So, the first chapter is to take inventory of your life. What’s right and answer four questions what’s right, wrong, confused and missing. And do that maybe quarterly and then do a bigger version annually.
The second one is, Tech Detox. Literally just get away from it. Put yourself on restriction for a realistic amount of time and stick with it. It will open up a lot of time for you to be still with God. And I talk about what I learned in those seasons. Third one’s are routines for deep sleep, getting quiet, silencing the noise and then routines where deep sleep is just how to prepare yourself before bedtime, how to prepare your room, prepare your mind, just very tangible things.
And then Morning Routine is the next one because it’s like if you slept well, which we’re trusting you will, when you put these things in place. You actually have energy to wake early. And then how do you order that morning? Because the first hour sets the framework for the rest of your day. The next 15 hours will follow suit depending on how intentional. So, I walk the reader through this is what my morning routine looks like. Whether it’s posture of release and receiving in prayer, gratitude, journaling, giving thanks from scripture, liturgy, whatever those are. I kind of outline those in that chapter.
And then Sabbath, just talk pragmatically on how to Sabbath. What it looked like in the Hebrew culture, what it can look like this now. And I have a Rhythms for Life podcast with my husband, where we literally spend each week talking through very practical tips on how to do these things in your everyday life with teenagers, with your family, with your spouse, with your work, whatever.
Very cool. So, after we rest, then we move into what you call the second rhythm of Restoring. So how would you describe the difference between those two and why is restoring so important?
So Restore is physical. So, Rest is heart and inner life. Restore, I mean they could cross over. But to me I separate them because Restore is once you and God are communion and you could still be in communion and doing well, but you’re just still eating horribly, and you have no energy. And eventually the Holy Spirit’s going to kind of get in the middle of that and be like, “Hey, this is a temple, steward it well.” Are you using food for fuel or is it kind of a crutch? Is it a numbing out mechanism or are you active? Do you raise your heart rate?
Because when we’re active or raise a heart rate for 10 to 15 minutes or more a day, it releases serotonin in our bodies, which is the happy hormone that gives you a sense of well-being, of confidence, of momentum in the work you’re doing. So again, a lot of times in mental health fields, everyone talks about the chemical imbalances in the brain. But serotonin is elevated when you’ve moved. Get fit like you have fitness in your life. Just like oxytocin is released when you hold and embrace. So those are two chemicals that affect your brain.
So yes, there are medications for helping in some of these ways in seasons, but in general, God actually created rhythms that help these things, that are natural. And it’s important that we’re aware of those things. We need to learn what releases oxytocin, what does serotonin? If I need connection and belonging, I should probably make eye contact with someone. So, all those things are really important.
Every chapter has science and faith, because I think they work together and they help us just understand that God made our bodies and He knows what we need physically and He uses all means necessary for our healing.
I really appreciate it in that chapter, you had a section on identity and you made this statement – I thought this was really good. You said, “When I faced panic attacks eight years ago, I didn’t have a diagnosis for what was happening. And looking back, it was a grace because this kept me from giving myself a label that I can make a part of my identity.”
I think that’s right on. So many people I talk to define themselves by what they’re struggling with. I think you go into it, do a wonderful job of saying, well, you as a human being in the image of God, you as a Christian redeemed by Christ, where do you have to start? And that’s at Christ. And then you see your struggles in a whole different light. I thought that was really good.
Yeah. Your struggles aren’t who you are. Your struggles are the things that have come against you that you face, that you’ve had adversity. I mean, Ephesians 6 is so clear. Put on the whole armour, so when the day of evil comes, you can withstand the adversity or the strategy or the evil schemes. There is, trust me, there is an attack for each of us to have to undergo to slowly diminish us and take us out. That’s not a mystery if you are a believer. It’s more to go, “Oh, that’s actually something that’s coming against me. That isn’t God.”
God didn’t make me as someone who would always live crippled in fear. Scripture is very clear about the opposite of that. Because I don’t give you a spirit of fear, Rebekah, I give you power, love, and a sound mind. So whatever fear you’re facing isn’t from Me. What I give you to combat that fear is power, love and sound mind. That has helped me go, “Yes.” There are labels sometimes given to help the world understand how to navigate things, but I think over time they’re overused, and they’re misused in ways that cripple us further because we now accept that as if we can never change. And it gives a predetermined outcome is the way I write it in the book.
It’s like, “Well, if this must be true, then this is as far as I can imagine the bar will ever reach for me.” And I don’t think that’s what the gospel’s about. God is a regenerative God. He is the author of life, and He’s always doing a new thing. That’s what renewal means is to make new again and again and again in rhythm.
So the point of this book is to go, “Hey, you might have really struggled with something a year ago, but that’s not the end of your story. And you’re not alone.” Since it’s not the end of your story. He’s giving you a new, doing a new thing and a way that gives life. You can trust that just because you faced it then doesn’t mean you’re going to be facing it your entire life. That’s what healing’s about.
So we begin by resting, right? It’s this reconnecting with the Lord and the spiritual renewal and then restoring. It’s more of the physical, what you’re talking about of actually being prepared to then go out. And then you move to what you call the output rhythms, Connecting and Creating. So, what does it look like to Connect and what does it look like to Create?
Yes. So, Connect is relational health. It’s out of the overflow because you are rested, and you now have energy and you’re revived. You then go out and have something to offer other people. So that rhythm really outlines relational health, whether it’s leading with vulnerability, transparency, authenticity or hospitality and welcoming in people into your home. Just this idea of friendship. We’ve got a loneliness epidemic in our society right now, which again leads to depression, which leads to suicide. Because there is a belief that if I’m not here, it wouldn’t even matter.
But when we have people who actually are showing us how much they care, that depression lifts. There is a sense of going, “I’m known, and I’m loved.” And that communal need is in us. We’re communal people made by a communal God. The lie is that you’re always better off alone because nobody gets you or understands you or you’re too much or too little. But the truth is you’re actually absolutely, your healing is essential in community. You can go through all the counselling you want, but at some point, you’re going to stop paying that person. You’re going to go out and make real friendships that are not going to be transactional, that are going to be just intimate and true, and there’s nothing like it. So, all that stuff’s relational health.
And then the last one is Create and that’s vocation. And that’s basically just the idea of Psalm 139 that all our days were written and planned in His book before one of them begin. And then He met us in a secret place and that His works are wonderful. It’s really just taking us back to the origin of the womb. And did God have plans and purposes for every single one of us? And did He, even as He made us establish and determine what He would envision our lives to look and become, did He equip us for those things even in the womb and then invite us to join Him? I believe that’s true.
I think part of it is just peeling back the layers of who we were as kids when we hadn’t learned to be afraid yet. And what are those callings that are made up of talents and burdens colliding? What are the birthright gifts that we loved when we were eight, nine and ten? And what are the burdens though? The things that broke our heart just through pain or just loss of life, right? And how do we redeem? How do we use the gifts we’ve been given to redeem the things that break our heart? I think they’re in life’s calling.
So I’m curious of all these four rhythms, as you were pulling this book together, have you found any particular one to be the most difficult for you to engage with yourself?
I think for me it just depends on the season. When I’m in a push season, like I was this fall, Rest was harder. Because there’s just stress attached to launching a book or just the demand of the schedule or whatever. I think when I’m in a real restful place, I’m enjoying it so much that I kind of don’t really feel like I don’t feel a pressure to produce or create. Eventually I do want to create, but it might not be in a way that actually makes anybody, which is fine too.
Because I think I talk about that in the Create rhythm of working with your hands, learning something new, take a class, be responsible, say yes to risk. There’s so many pragmatic ways that we can just get out and garden. You have chickens, whatever. That still brings delight and joy and that fullness that’s not just within the boundaries of like, “Oh, you write, and you teach.” We’re whole beings that are complex and wired with a lot of interests and I think God actually wants us to engage Him in ways that are tactile, the ways that just awaken our senses to new things that He’s created.
I tend to live in the extremes and what these rhythms always require of me is to do this. Not abandoned one for another, just kind of stay in this cadence of all four rhythms daily, weekly, monthly, annually. But knowing that even in an annual season of rhythms, winter is winter. Winter’s for hibernation. Our bodies need more sleep in winter. There’s a lot of roots growing deep underground in winter, in our hearts as well. Winter is a good time for me to write, but I might not want to go as much or be as social.
Whereas in spring I’m like, “Bring on all the parties.” I just miss… Everyone’s coming out of their homes and that Connect rhythm is starved, right? We’re just like… And I think it’s okay to have an ebb and flow because that’s what rhythm is. Because you know it’s going to keep coming back around. As long as you’re doing just a small and subtle output of each every day.
So, what that means is you’re going to sleep every day, hopefully if you’re on some level. So be mindful of how you do that. Be intentional of how you get physical rest and the food you eat. You should be eating every day. So, let’s just steward that well. You do talk to someone every day at some point, hopefully. So be intentional about that. It’s about taking what’s already in your life and be more mindful of how you treat those times.
And if you’re finding that you’re so stressed or strung out, it’s probably because you need to stop doing something that’s really no longer enjoyable that you’ve almost become a slave to, which for so many people I talk to. The big two things they do after reading the book is, they usually take some version of a tech detox and they usually take some version of a food detox, partly because they have no energy. And they’re also discouraged because life feels like it’s passing them by while everyone else’s lives look perfect online.
And when you take a change in the input of media and just consumption of things that aren’t actually helping your body be invigorated, then you’re like, “Oh, wow, I’m excited and I’m kind of passionate about some new things that I forgot were there.” Because you’ve made room. You’ve made room and you have energy to even approach those things that you would have been overwhelmed by possibly months prior.
Very cool. So, for those of our listeners who today might be struggling with their anxiety, their stress or depression, what word of encouragement would you have for them?
Yes. I would just say you’re not alone and this is not the end of your story. And that every day you wake with breath means you’ve got the rest of your life to re-establish what you want it to be about. I would imagine for a lot of people who are depressed, the idea of trying to rediscover or reawaken feels daunting. But I would just say take a walk outside, go get in nature. I don’t care if it’s cold, bundle up, raise some serotonin in your body as regular as you can. I do it every day.
I’m a Florida girl who lives in Tennessee and I miss the water and I miss the sunshine and the warmth. For those reasons, I’m all the more proactive to get outside and get moving. Because I have a hard time if I don’t. So start your day with just the right kind of like a juice or just lukewarm water like room temperature because your body doesn’t have to work as hard to warm the water if it’s cold, so it actually hydrates you faster.
And just little simple things like squeeze fresh lemon in it. It actually detoxifies you first thing in the morning before you start dumping caffeine your body. And just make sure that you get in a little bit of time just to receive in His Word. I know this is so basic, but sometimes we are more about read the Bible in a year than we are to actually just be nourished by just a Psalm that comforts our heart. It’s not that that’s bad to read the Bible. Please read the whole Bible and it’s good to have goals if you have energy to do that.
But to me, God’s saying, “Is your faith growing? Are you depending on me more? That’s what I care about. That’s why I want you to know Me.” And if you need to take longer and just read one chapter and meditate on it so that you can really receive the feast that it is, then do it. There’s no race. There’s no script. It’s a relationship. So I just encourage maybe those three areas: what you put in your mouth, time with God, and then how long you look at your phone.
That’s really good.
Those are the top three.
Very cool. Well, Rebekah, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us what you’ve learned from just from your experience and what you learned through writing this book. We really appreciate it.
Oh, thank you. No, it’s my joy.
It was such a great opportunity to have Rebekah as our guest and I think it’s such a good reminder to take time to look at how we’re defining ourselves and how we can improve our daily rhythms to help us not just in our daily lives, but life in the long run with ourselves and the relationships that we build with others and with God.
If you’d like more information on Rebekah or any of her books, you can go to her website at rebekahlyons.com and we’ll also have all the links up on this episode’s page online. Thanks so much for listening and I hope that you join us next week where pastor and best-selling author, David Platt, will be talking with Isaac about his new book, Something Needs to Change.
Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more, subscribe on iTunes and Spotify or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com. We’re also on social media, so make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.