What’s in the Dark…

“Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be found and brought to light.                                                                                                                                               Luke 8:17

Everyone has some things in their own mind that they do not want shared in public. Indeed, in many cases it might be inappropriate or hurtful to share it. Yet, there are some things that need to be shared in order for us to fully heal.

I have clients who have secrets that they have held for many years. Many find it too burdensome to continue carrying these hidden thoughts or behaviors. Often, after a difficult disclosure, I have heard people say, “I have never told anyone else this before…”

I feel privileged to have earned their trust, and to be a part of their healing. More importantly, it can be the start of a new free and unburdened life for them. I have had clients who held secrets about cheating on a spouse, a secret addiction, etc. At the time they tell these dark secrets, they can begin to heal.

I explain to them that carrying a secret takes a lot of energy. We are consciously, sometimes unconsciously, making sue that the words stay hidden deep in our memory, never to be let out. Yet, this takes a chronic mental, spiritual, even physical toll.

After disclosure, clients typically say “I feel so much better having gotten that off my chest!” The value of getting these things out into the open in a trusted space is an important aspect of healing. The saying that “Light breaks the power of darkness” is a true statement.

The truth sets us free.

Prayer: Lord, help us to make safe spaces for truth, Amen


So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand                                                                                                Isaiah 41:10

I will often suggest to my clients that they pick some kind of visual symbol to remind them of the coping tools that we discussed. Tactile reminders can be helpful. Sometimes, people will carry a tiny cross in their pocket, wear a ring, get a tattoo, or place some other very visual reminder on their person that helps to remind and anchor helpful mental health tools.

I tell my clients that Orthodox Jews may wear Frontlets on their forehead. These Frontlets contain pieces of parchment on which are written Scripture verses. In other words, they took very literally God’s command to “always keep my word in front of you”.

Each of us needs to find ways to be grounded when anxious or depressed, and also to remember that God promised to never leave us. Whatever form that takes for you, consider finding ways to make that real.

We all need reassurance sometimes…  

Prayer: We need reminders that you will never leave us. Thank you for that promise, Amen

What We Learn

“I always knew that deep down in every heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela, (A Long Walk to Freedom)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.                                     John 13:34-35

I’ve been listening to a podcast about the human brain, and it is fascinating. Once again, I am struck by the complexity and grand design of our body, and especially the brain. The author talks about use of the word “hardwiring” that is sometimes used in discussing brain function. He says that “livewiring” is a better word, because the brain is always compensating to adapt to circumstances in our life. I cannot go into all the amazing details, of course, but suffice it to say, it got me thinking about learning.

We are learning all the time. We are adjusting and compensating for the things that life throws at us. Our brain is constantly giving us sensory messages about our environment. We can also learn more important emotional skills to navigate this world so that we can become more of what God intended us to be- loving people. We are not born hating other people. That, unfortunately is learned.

When we continually use a certain part of our brain- when we “overlearn” something- it tends to endure and almost become second nature. It comes easily to us after much practice. So too with doing loving things. The more we practice loving behaviors, the more we feel love.

You know my mantra if you are a regular reader of this blog- DO, THEN FEEL. If we do something enough, we will feel like doing it. If I act lovingly, I begin to feel more loving.

So, that is what we are called to do. Learn to love better. That is what we were created to do.

Prayer: Father, you have made us to love one another. Help us to learn how to do that daily, Amen


Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.                                                                                                          Philippians 4:8 (The Message)

I recently came across an old document that I had written some 30 years ago. I had just left an administrative position in public mental health and I was moving to another similar position. I had taken the time then to document a “list of achievements” in the old position.

I think it is good to do self-assessment, and the span of years has given even more context to this document as I read it in my retirement years. You see, I sometimes questioned whether I brought enough value to the position I had just left. Now, as I look at that list, I feel good about the mark that I left on that organization.

This also gave me an idea for a client that I recently saw. This client struggles to give herself validation, and she has a hard time accepting compliments because she tends to discount her own worth. I asked this client to make up a list of achievements in various areas of her life- personal, career, family, social, community, recreational, etc. I asked her to be thoughtful and honest as she went over the list. I know that she will come up with a good list- possibly one that is modest, but a good list nonetheless. I told her we would go over it on the next session. I trust that she will be pleasantly surprised with how successful she has been.

More importantly, I want her to get used to honest self-affirmation. It is not a boastful exercise. It is an exercise in honesty.

Prayer: Lord, lead us into the truth of our own value, Amen

Joy in a Funeral Home

 The path of the godly leads to life. So why fear death?                                                                                     Proverbs 12:28 (Living Bible)

I recently went to a funeral visitation to support friends who had lost their near 90-year-old mother. Hers had been a life well lived, and the packed funeral home attested to the ways that she and her family had positively impacted their community. The funeral home was filled with laughter and smiling faces.

Yes, that is a wonderful way to fill a funeral visitation. People coming together to celebrate the life of one who has redeemed their time well on earth. The overall mood was joyous and friendly- the result of old friends and family coming together.

Of course, there was sadness in her passing. This family had just lost a mother, grandmother, aunt, etc. Yet the pervasive tone there was joy in one another present. Good memories of her life abounded. Family stories of her impact were shared. All these were good things, and while painful at times, they were events to be celebrated and passed into family lore.

We naturally want a long and fruitful life, yet we know that it will someday end. Our hope is that one day, when others gather at that funeral home for us, they can laugh and share great stories together, and have laughter fill the room.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the gift of life, help us to cram it full of wonderful stories, Amen

Eyewitness or Expert Witness?

My work is to prepare the way for that man so that everyone will go to him. You yourselves know how plainly I told you that I am not the Messiah. I am here to prepare the way for him—that is all.                                           John 3:28

In this passage, John the Baptist is testifying about Jesus, but also saying something about himself. John is being asked about his ministry, and he points out to people that he can only testify to what he sees and knows. He tells people that he must decrease as Jesus increases, because his job is to herald Jesus. His job is to be the messenger, not the message. He basically is saying this:

“Folks, if you are wanting to follow after me, you have missed the picture. I don’t have anything to give you but Jesus, the one about whom I testify. Don’t look for salvation in me. Look to Jesus, the savior”.

I think the use of the word “testimony” is interesting. It reminds me of our own judicial system. You see, I think that the best testimony comes from those who have no vested interest in making themselves look good or important. In a court room, the most powerful testimony comes not from the “expert witness”, but from the eyewitness. The eyewitness simply says, “Here is what I saw, plain and simple. Believe me if you want, or disbelieve me if you want, but all I can do is tell you what I saw with my own eyes”.

The expert witness tries to establish his/her own credentials as an interpreter of the truth, and they have something to gain or lose based on their testimony- their “expertness” and credibility. The eyewitness has no vested interest in making him/herself look better, but is interested in saying only what they saw or experienced. That person has powerful credibility in my opinion.

John the Baptist simply wanted to point to Jesus, not to make a name for himself. How good are we at simply being the witness that no one can refute, because we are saying, “This is what Jesus did for me!”

Prayer: Father, help me always point to you. Truth will always come from me if I am faithful in pointing only to you. Give me the courage to be the witness that you would have me to be. Amen

Ted Lasso

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.                       I Peter 3:9

For those of you who are fans of the hit show Ted Lasso, I rejoice with you about the return of this show in season three. I understand that this will be the last season for the show, and that is kind of sad. For those who are not Ted Lasso fans, I urge you to check out the show. In contemporary culture, sometimes we find excellent models of Biblical principles. When we do, we should celebrate them.

Ted Lasso, the main character of the show, is a hopelessly optimistic man who simply wants to affirm others and find the joy in life. In several instances, Ted has been reviled by an opponent, even one who had been close to him. Indeed, the man who turned against Ted is the man that Ted brought to relevance out of obscurity. Yet, Ted Lasso refused to return insults and venom for the pain this man gave to Ted.

It reminded me of the text in I Peter 3:9 cited above. How often does that happen in our often-mean-spirited culture? Yeah, not very often. So, let’s take a lesson from Ted Lasso. We remember that we often return good for good and evil for evil. Satan returns evil for good.

We are called to do the opposite.

Prayer: Lord, help us to do the things that do not come naturally to us in order to honor you, Amen

Where Might You Fit?

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

James 1:12 (The Message)

How do we deal with challenges?

I am recalling an old psychological experiment from many years ago that went something like this. A group of young men were convened on a basketball court for the purpose of a study on how we challenge ourselves. The participants did not know the nature of the study, and they were simply told to position themselves anywhere on the court and take shots at the basket. They would be evaluated on the results, but the young men were not certain of what those evaluations might be based on. They were given basketballs, and told to take shots at the basket. They were given a number of basketballs, and a set time during which to shoot.

The breakdown of the study ended up with three types of individual cohorts. The first group were those who stood under the basket and shot layups the whole time. They wanted to be sure that they had the best chance for scoring with the most consistency. Another group went beyond the three-point circle and heaved up shots (even though in those days, there was no “3 point circle”). A final group went to areas around the “key” and challenged themselves with shots that were makeable, but challenging.

The researchers summed up the groups in terms of their willingness to challenge themselves. The “layup group” were very conservative, non-risk takers. They went for the “sure thing”.

The “long-shot group” were those willing to risk, but were hedging their bets about being judged as not competent, feeling that their long-range shots would not be held against them if they missed.

The last group, the ones that gave themselves a good challenge that was not overly easy, nor ridiculously hard, were those that researchers found to be the most independent and confident in themselves.

I find this research interesting, and indicative of human nature in all its forms. Some of us are fearful and want to ensure success or affirmation with as little emotional risk as possible. Some of us are willing to challenge ourselves, even if it means we might fail and be judged by others.

I’m not sure where I might fit, and it probably depends on the circumstances.

Where would this little experiment find you? Just a little food for thought!

Prayer: Lord, help us to challenge ourselves in order to grow, Amen

I Didn’t See That

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”…

Exodus 4:1-2

Over the years I have been reminded often of a truth- that others see things in us that we do not see in ourselves. So often I get the joy of pointing out certain strengths or traits in others that they do not see in themselves.  Sometimes people have gotten an image of themselves that is not completely accurate. They may have been under the deeply held impression that they are not capable, not worthy, not intelligent, not good enough- you name it.

One of the values of therapy is that people can become ready to receive a healing truth at a “right time” in their life, and the counselor gets the fortunate job of bringing that to light. As the old saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”.  This means of course that the student (client), already has what they need (skills, abilities, insights, etc.), but cannot hear it until they are ready. Once the opportunity comes, the healing can happen quickly.   

I recently had that happen with a client who shared with me in just the second session with her, that “everything clicked” and her anxiety over a specific life event, had melted away after using some tools in an “anxiety tool kit” we use. Truthfully, she really had some of those tools intuitively, but hearing me go over them with her gave her the confidence to use them.

Just as God essentially said to Moses at the “burning bush” – you have all that you need in your hand…

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the gifts you give us, even when we do not see them, Amen

Dealing with Depression – Part 3

I cry to the Lord; I call and call to him. Oh, that he would listen. I am in deep trouble and I need his help so much. All night long I pray, lifting my hands to heaven, pleading. There can be no joy for me until he acts. I think of God and moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. I cannot sleep until you act. I am too distressed even to pray!

 I keep thinking of the good old days of the past, long since ended. Then my nights were filled with joyous songs. I search my soul and meditate upon the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be favorable? Is his loving-kindness gone forever? Has his promise failed? Has he forgotten to be kind to one so undeserving? Has he slammed the door in anger on his love? And I said: This is my fate, that the blessings of God have changed to hate. I recall the many miracles he did for me so long ago. Those wonderful deeds are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about them.

 O God, your ways are holy. Where is there any other as mighty as you? You are the God of miracles and wonders! You still demonstrate your awesome power.

 You have redeemed us who are the sons of Jacob and of Joseph by your might. When the Red Sea saw you, how it feared! It trembled to its depths! The clouds poured down their rain, the thunder rolled and crackled in the sky. Your lightning flashed. There was thunder in the whirlwind; the lightning lighted up the world! The earth trembled and shook.

 Your road led by a pathway through the sea—a pathway no one knew was there! You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.                                        Psalm 77(Living Bible)

We have come to part three of dealing with depression, the spiritual dimension. Really, one cannot arbitrarily separate the physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of the human existence. Each realm affects the other.

The spiritual dimension is related to our soul- the eternal part of us. This has to do with our very experience of the meaning of life and that is why it is so important. When we are depressed, we can wonder if life is really worth living. Suicide rates in depression can be disturbingly high, especially in certain vulnerable demographic categories.

Without a spiritual approach, we can become hopeless, and then search for quick substitutes to try to feel better and relieve the pain quickly. As I had mentioned in a blog about addictions, anything that makes us feel better right away is addictive. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, food, etc. are all quick “make me feel good right now” remedies which can addict us. Many people become addicted to a substance or a practice because they are self-medicating to relieve depression.

Spiritual tools include prayer, music, reading uplifting books, fellowship with other strong spiritual mentors and friends, and any other practice that brings us into the presence of God. Indeed, walks in nature, trips to the mountains, the beach, etc. can be spiritual experiences if we dedicate them to getting closer to God and knowing his plan and love for us.

David, in Psalm 77 described his lonely journey in depression, and found solace only when he contemplated and remembered how God had been active in his life for so many years before.

God knows our frailty, and even David had his very dark nights of the soul. We need to take the deep breath and realize that God did not leave us, he is right there when we call on him.

Prayer: Father, we are prone to difficulties and suffering, yet you give comfort as we recall your goodness to us, Amen.