Well, When You Put It That Way…

So, if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective                                                                                                                                           Colossians 3:1-2 (The Messsage)

It is interesting how perspective can change our opinions. If we look at situations from a slightly different perspective, it can completely change our perception, and our attitudes. Just this past weekend, I was watching football and I saw the replay of a potential touchdown. (It seems that every touchdown is now viewed no less that 17 times by officials, commentators, and the guys in the video truck- but I digress.)

On the replay, they showed several angles from different cameras. On at least 2 of the angles, the touchdown was not a touchdown. However, on one angle, it seemed clear that the ball had crossed the end zone line. All of a sudden, the certainty in the announcer’s analysis vanished. He had seen it from a different angle, and he changed his opinion.

I talk about that with clients at times. Some clients in relationships think that they are suffering because of the behavior of their partner- that their partner is being unreasonable. Then I might ask, what if you were to look at this from a different perspective- the spiritual perspective? What if you could decide to take the sacrificial role, and agree that what you are suffering is not fair or reasonable. You can choose to accept that, but not feel powerless about it. Now they would no longer be the victim of imposed unfair behavior, but they would have the option of choosing to accept the situation, and have the more noble goal of sacrificing for their relationship.

When we are in control of decisions, and do not feel that we are the victims of unfair behavior, we are much better able to accept uncomfortable things, and actually feel good about making the personal changes which can make the relationship better.

Please be assured that I am not talking here about abuse, and reckless offenses by one partner to be simply “accepted” by the other. I am talking about some everyday types of annoyances and concerns that may take on a role larger than it really needs to. You know, it’s a matter of perspective. Choosing to frame things differently can change everything.

It’s all a matter of how you decide to see it.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the ability to decide how we want to react to our environment. Give us the wisdom to see things from your perspective, Amen.

Anxiety Weighs Down the Heart

Anxiety weighs down the heart,
    but a kind word cheers it up.                                                                                                                                               Proverbs12:25 (NIV)

The other day, I spoke with a client who has anxiety. He has chronic anxiety, and I explained to him that anxiety, over a period of time, becomes depression. The Proverb cited above seems to back that up. Anxiety will “weigh down the heart”. Typically, Bible language for the heart calls it the seat of emotion. A “heavy heart” is another way to say “depressed”.

My client with chronic anxiety has become depressed. As we spoke, I saw the classic effects of depression- too much introspection, lack of energy and motivation, a sense of powerlessness, etc. I suggested to this client that he pick out a few of his friends or relatives, and simply call them, and tell them that he was thinking about them. Better yet, just tell them that he loves them.

This remedy works both to help those called as well as the caller. The Proverb indicates that a remedy for a heavy heart is a kind word.

It works.

Prayer: Lord, lift those with heavy hearts today, Amen

Fairness and Justice

 Justice- the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments

Fairness- the quality or state of being fair especially : fair or impartial treatment : lack of favoritism toward one side or another

 You shall do no unrighteousness in a court. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person who is great, but in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor                                                     Leviticus 19:15

Isn’t it interesting that both “Fairness” and “Justice” have in their definitions the word “impartial”. Yet, justice is not always fair. We have this innate sense of fairness, and we learn early on what we perceive as “unfair”. Indeed, we often hear kids say “no fair!” when they believe that they have been denied something- especially if another sibling gets that thing. However, fairness is essentially a perception. It is a personal belief, based upon our experiences, and our own perceptions. We hold our own set of rules on this.

Justice, on the other hand, has a set of rules and standards that have been set outside of us to which we are expected to comply. Whether we like it or not, we abide by the rules, or justice will be administered. It may violate our sense of fairness.

Several years ago, I was driving down I-75 moving, let’s say “pretty quickly”. OK, I was speeding. I guess I was going about 80 mph and I was in the fast lane. I saw, just a bit late, a Highway Patrol car in the median. In that instant, I was thinking that I might get pulled over. Just then, another car blew past me in the middle lane at least going 85-90 mph.

At that moment I said to myself, “man, it would not be fair if I got pulled over and that guy didn’t!”  Then, as I rolled past the Highway Patrol car without being pulled over, I had another thought. “It wouldn’t be fair if I had been pulled over, but it would be justice”.

As I mulled that, I began to think about how we think of justice and fairness. We tend to favor fairness, yet justice must prevail. Our perceptions are the guides that we use to determine what is fair. However, there are standards of justice that we simply must accept, whether or not we think they are fair.

I bring this up just for the sake of giving pause to think about our personal ideas about these concepts. How does your sense of fairness compare with your understanding of justice? How does it line up with what God expects of us?

Prayer: Father, help us to align with your sense of what is right- that is the way to peace, Amen.

The Noblest Profession

The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.                                                                                          Martin Luther

“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…”                                                                       Colossians 3:23

I often hear people say, either directly or indirectly, that some professions are more noble than others. This sometimes comes out in the way that people present themselves when asked about how they make their living. Some show a bit of embarrassment if their line of work is not held in high esteem by others. We as a society tend to elevate some career paths over others. Granted, many professional and technical careers take a great deal of study, sacrifice and dedication in order to achieve the position. People who make those great sacrifices ought to be esteemed and honored.

Yet, all professions and careers ought to be honored. All work is worthy and noble if nobly performed. I like Luther’s quote above. We honor God by doing good craftsmanship in whatever we do. Such diligence gives an important message about how God sees us, who God is, and his esteem for us no matter what we do for our job.

Prayer: Lord thank you for the gift of work, noble in your sight, Amen

Reminders

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

Exercise

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.                                                                                                                                                                 I Corinthians 6:19-20

If you are a frequent reader of this blog (and thank you, by the way), you know that I believe in the therapeutic effects of vigorous exercise. Recently I spoke with a client about consideration of anti-anxiety medication. I cannot prescribe medication, but I can and do discuss the relative benefits of medication for anxiety and depression.

The decision to take medication for mental health issues is one that should not be taken lightly. However, there can be excellent benefits for many people in taking medications, and they need to be considered as a cost/benefit analysis. The benefit of taking medication versus possible side effects and drug interactions, as well as current physical health all must be considered.

That being said, I let people know that changing brain chemistry can also be done, to good effect, by other means. One of those means is vigorous exercise. Again, this should be done with the advice and consent of the physician they are seeing. If cleared for regular exercise, I recommend that the client find the exercise that fits them best. It might be walking, running, lifting, yoga, martial arts- you name it. The important thing is consistency and dedication.

Finally, I often need to tell my clients that time for exercise is not a luxury- it is a necessity for good physical and mental health.

So, there it is. Hope you find that your exercise is enjoyable, because it surely is helpful.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us complex body/mind interactions that we need to use for our benefit and that of others, Amen

Control

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.                       Galatians 5:22-23

Recently I was talking with a client who struggles with anger. He has a lot of stress at work and at home and he does not want to be an angry guy around his kids. He feels bad about yelling at his kids, and he sincerely wants help. We talked about his triggered responses and the need to “hit the pause button” when he gets a stimulus that may trigger his anger.

We went through the anxiety “tool kit” that I work out with clients, and we discussed his need for control of his kids. We went through his perceived need for control, and he came to realize that if he cannot control himself, he will never be able to control his kids. Control of his emotions must be present before he can exert any control over his children’s’ misbehaviors.

The only things we can really control are our own attitudes, feelings, and behaviors. We cannot control anything without control of our own emotions and behaviors.

We want to control a lot of things in our environment. Yes, we are all “control freaks”. Let’s just agree that we would love total control, and that we also will never have it. Just saying that out loud says, “I cannot control everything”.

That is a good start.

Prayer: Lord, you are in control, and we are not. There, that felt better! Amen

Going Toward the Good or Escaping the Bad?

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. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.                                                  Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

One of the concepts that I frequently discuss with my clients is that of motivation. Motivation can be positive or negative. In aspiring to a goal or a “desired place”, we may have several motivators in place. We are complex beings, so simple answers are often insufficient to explain all the factors that move us. Yet it is good to try to determine, “what is my true motivator?”

I tend to think that positive motivators, that is, going toward a goal is a better and more satisfying motivator than a negative one. A negative motivator looks like, escaping from a painful or disagreeable situation.

Take a job change, for example. If we are in a bad job, one that drains us or causes undue anxiety, we probably want to get away from it. The motivation is escape. While in the short run  another job may look like the answer, it may not solve the real problem. We may take the first job opening that comes up as an answer for the bad job. If that new job is not satisfying either, we have just traded problems, with no solution.

If, on the other hand, we are drawn to another job that is really part of our skills, experience and calling, that is a much better motivator. There is a much better likelihood of success and fulfillment.

This concept is true for many decisions that we make. Moving toward a high value is more energizing that trying to escape a bad situation. Running away is tiring. Moving toward a vision is energizing.

Prayer: Lord, help us to discern the things to move toward, and what we may be running from, Amen.

What We Remember…

A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance                                                                   Proverbs 28:13 (Living Bible)

I often listen to sports talk shows when I do my morning walk. I find it interesting that when coaches, and athletes who compete at a high level, are interviewed they often make this comment: “I don’t remember all the games, but I sure remember those losses.”

I find this interesting, and sad, but true. We often cannot let go of those losses- those bad decisions, mistakes, failures that seem to occupy more space in our head than they ought. I suppose there can be some silver lining for this somehow, but it seems that if we do not acknowledge those issues, they can overtake us.

All of us can remember mistakes and failures that we would like to forget. Sometimes, we just have to face those unhappy memories, live a bit in the lamenting of them, then file them away for another day. Like I have said in the past, we can visit those places, but we don’t have to live there.

I have found that embracing those memories when they come up, rather than trying to suppress or avoid them, is probably the healthiest way to deal with them. They will never just “go away”, so we must find a way to have peace with them, acknowledging them as traveling partners, however unwanted they may be.

I think by acknowledging those moments, we find a way to control them, rather than allowing those unhappy memories to control us. After all, failures and mistakes need not define us, they are just part of the journey.

Oh, and by the way, finding a way to forgive ourselves for those failures and mistakes is a pretty good idea too…

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the gift of memories, and it is a wonderful gift. Help us to manage those memories for our good, Amen

Just a Little Light

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.                                                                                                                                                                  Matthew 5:16 (KJV)

“Even the smallest light shines bright in the darkness”                                                   Donna Raye

Have you ever been in a cave? You know, like those tours in Mammoth Cave or some other spacious cave? If you have, you know how dark it is when the guide turns out the lights. Yes, it is almost painfully dark. You literally cannot see your hand three inches from your face. That dark. Then the guide lights a match some distance away, and it looks like a laser beam.

So, think about what it is like when you are in an emotional darkness. You feel that there will never be light again. You cannot remember what it is like to see or even feel the light again. Then comes a little note, or call, or card. Someone just sent a little thoughtful connection. Not a big deal in anyone’s thinking, but that day, that moment, it was as bright as a star.

You see, when it is REALLY dark, a little light shines inordinately bright. In comparison to the present environment, it becomes a huge event. Small by some standards, it is a ray of hope.

I spoke with a client recently who said that the little card and gift that she received from her church during the Christmas season, “made my week”.

So, don’t try to judge or minimize the effect of a small gesture. It really could be the brightest spot a person gets all week.

Prayer: Lord, help us to really see the little lights you send to us from others, Amen