“I Don’t Get No Respect…”

Rodney Dangerfield

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!                                                                                                      Psalm 139:13-16 (The Message)

I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet

When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them

(Rodney Dangerfield one-liners)

I apologize dear readers, but I can’t do a blog about self-respect without quotes from the king of self-disrespect, Rodney Dangerfield. I hope I made you laugh a bit, but consider this just a fun lead-in to my topic today…

I was discussing with a client the other day the dynamics of self-esteem and self-respect. She recognized that her husband had come from a background of emotional neglect, and that he often lashed out at her with things that had been building up in him over time. Their relationship is one of perceived imbalance, with the husband feeling disrespected and powerless. My client was not trying to blame her husband, but rather to understand him better.

We discussed the idea that when we feel small, or powerless, or like a victim, we often lash out at others. The need to feel respected by others is, of course, important, but first we need to respect ourselves. We do that by becoming people of integrity. That is, we keep promises to ourselves, and we do not blame others for the reasons that we miss the mark. The more we keep those little promises to ourselves, however small they may be, the more we can trust ourselves, and the higher our self-esteem grows.

No amount of external praise or affirmation will be able to fill up a person who does not have an internal sense of self-respect. Keeping those little promises to ourselves will, over time, build or re-build damaged self-respect.

God has made us in an amazing way, and each person deserves respect as a human being. But we all need to build our own internal sense of self-respect to be able to fully appreciate that wonderful creation that God made us to be.

Prayer: Lord, you have made us in your image, worthy of love and respect. Thank you for that amazing plan, Amen

Pop

My daughter wrote this story about her grandfather, my dad, on her blog www.traumamom4.com yesterday. I encourage you to check out this great blog of hers. Meanwhile, I am running this beautiful story for my blog today. Enjoy Pop’s story…

“Here’s $20. Go buy a pitcher of good beer. You deserve it,” he winked as he slipped the crinkled bill into my now husband’s hand. We were two young kids at my cousin’s wedding, standing near the cash bar. We’d just started dating. And he could see the love in our eyes. I was his grandbaby. A tender 20 years old. And he saw the man at my side, who’d really only been there a matter of months, and he’d decided he was already family. Grandpa Jung had a heart a magnitude of order larger than his wallet. If you were in his world, in his sights, you were his family. And he would be sure that you knew it.

Grandpa, or as my dad called (calls) him, “Pop”, in so many ways, is my true north for how I aspire to treat other people. My mother tells a story of meeting Pop for the first time as she found herself sleeping in the family home (in the guest room, of course) early during the time my mother and father were dating. Pop’s response was not one of judgment, but of welcoming her to the family. A hug. A jovial smile. “If she’s good enough for our, Johnny, then she’s family,” I can imagine him saying.

When I was a kid, one of his 11 grandchildren, there was no doubt that he loved us. Grandma and Grandpa lived in Cincinnati, in the home where my father and his siblings grew up. We visited often from our home in a small town about 90 miles away. He greeted us in his button-down shirt and his pants pulled way too high over his round belly. He smelled of Brylcreem and the Goetta that he’d made that morning. He laughed as he hugged us when we walked in the door, the TV on in the background, without fail the Cincinnati Reds playing, or during the off-season, “WKRP in Cincinnati”. He sat in his modest swivel chair and I remember laying at his feet, watching TV with him. If the Reds weren’t playing, we’d play cards…he taught me to love the game of Euchre. But the Reds were life. The players. The history of the game. The bond baseball gave to generations of Jung kids.

Over the years, his hearing declined. Or now that I reflect on it, maybe his hearing just matured in his old age to hear only the things he wanted to hear…the things that made him happy. Maybe he just somehow found a way to not hear the things of this world that made him sad, or upset. He chose, instead, to listen to joy. He’d remain clueless about the content of a conversation until someone mentioned the family or a party. Then all of the sudden, he was keenly aware of every detail.

When they moved into the retirement home, he sat next to an old friend at dinner (or maybe it was a new friend; one could never tell; if he welcomed you in, you were automatically his lifelong friend) who he boldly, and unapologetically, introduced as “Joe, the old alcoholic.” Joe never corrected him. Pop said what he wanted, what he knew. And being the old alcoholic had nothing to do with Pop loving you. It was just a fact. A benign descriptor. No judgment. Just, “Hey, this is Joe. Just so you know, don’t offer him a beer. That’s not in his story right now.” 

Sometimes, as I am talking with a colleague, or a friend, or a patient’s family, I can hear whispers of Pop in my ear. “Ahh! Welcome to the family!”, or “How ‘bout them Reds?” as a way of suggesting that while I don’t know you well, I trust we have something in common. I see Pop challenging me to let go of biases and ignore differences. I hear him laughing and see him hugging everyone in his wake. Just pure love. That was Pop. At least, that’s the Pop that I remember.

And now here we are in 2021, where bias and mistrust are all too often our default; where anger and frustration, judgment and fear dominate our interactions, on social media and face to face. I think Pop would be heartbroken. And I also think Pop would “not hear” a lot of the hate. I think he’d pipe up when someone mentioned the next Catholic festival or family get-together. The rest…he wouldn’t bother to hear.

Pop is hugging Jesus now, and hugging his wife of 61 years, his siblings, his friends…He’s probably playing Euchre with St. Peter and talking trash about the Reds with St. Paul.

Grandpa…Pop…I hope you know that who you were inspires me. That you are exactly the kind of unconditional love we could use right now. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna keep listening to you and keep trying to be more like you. We need you, and your heart, now more than ever. I love you.

Team Effort

Several days later he returned to Capernaum, and the news of his arrival spread quickly through the city.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there wasn’t room for a single person more, not even outside the door. And he preached the Word to them.  Four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher.  They couldn’t get to Jesus through the crowd, so they dug through the clay roof above his head and lowered the sick man on his stretcher, right down in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw how strongly they believed that he would help, Jesus said to the sick man, “Son, your sins are forgiven!”                                                                                                                                      Mark 2:1-5 (Living)       

 The story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man in Mark 2 is powerful for many reasons. The faithfulness and tenacity of his friends is remarkable. They stopped at nothing to get help for their friend who was hurting. Their commitment paid off, because Jesus healed that man, and he did it simply by telling him that his sins were forgiven. Yes, another example of physical, spiritual and emotional connectedness.

However, the theme I am picking up on today is the actions of the ailing man’s friends. I often tell clients that they need to identify their “team” as the people that they can turn to in time of trouble. They need to be able to name that team, and also communicate with that little team that they are part of his/her healing and recovery. I have never seen a situation where a potential “team member” was not honored to be named as a part of the helping team for the client.

The first step is the hardest one- to ask people to be part of your recovery team. Mental health and addiction recovery is a team effort, make no mistake about it. Once the team is in place, like the group we saw in Mark’s gospel, the power of their help is remarkable.    

Prayer: Thank you for the plan that we go about this journey in life in teams, Amen

Schedules

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven…                                                                                        Ecclesiastes 3

I guess it’s all in how we look at it. The most famous example is the glass half full/half empty. Both statements are true, but your outlook on it defines your mood. Yes, it is also true that your mood can define how you look at it too. On a bad day, a glass ¾ full can look mostly empty at times.

I got to thinking about this when considering how we look at our busy schedules. For some people, schedules are tyrants that rob them of free time and cause endless worry about too much to do in too little time. Yet I could argue that schedules are a blessing, which can give predictability and order to our lives. If we feel that we do not have control over our schedule, it becomes a harsh taskmaster. If we feel control over our schedule, it becomes a reassurance that we can prioritize our time, and get done what is most important to us.

I once had a mentor who asked me if I had put into my schedule book time to be spent with my wife. “Everything else is scheduled”, he observed, “what about the most important things in your life?”

Sage advice there. It is really the priorities and the right choosing of them that is the key. The schedule isn’t the problem, it is our use of it that can be a problem.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the precious gift of time. Help us to use it wisely, Amen

“Preach the gospel at all times…”

“Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words”                                                                                   Francis of Assisi

“When all is said and done, more is said than done.”                                                                                   Benjamin Franklin

There is a saying that I like that is widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi-“Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words”. Whether or not he said it quite like that, I do not know. I do like the simple truth of it. He was a man of simple faith and wisdom, so I don’t doubt that he said it, or something pretty close. The point is, as Benjamin Franklin said, “When all is said and done, more is said than done.”

How do we live out our faith so that others may be attracted to it? Trying to preach at people, to convince them of a doctrinal truth, rings hollow when our accompanying actions are not loving. Loving actions are seen as our real convictions. If we believe something, we will act upon it. So, if we believe that our Christian faith is about loving those who have not found acceptance in the world, we better be the ones to accept people and love them right where they are.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live out the beliefs that we have so people can see you better, Amen.

The Road from Selfish to Selfless

Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect                                                            Matthew 5:48

I think there is a tendency in all of us to be “either or”- that is, to see life as black or white, right or wrong etc. I think like all things in life, we are on a sort of continuum. We are on a path. We aren’t there yet, that is, we are not yet where we want to be in our goals, but we are on the path.  Jesus said “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”. What could he mean by that? None of us are remotely close to perfect.

What I believe that he meant is that we are to be on the “perfect path”. We are to follow him. We are on the path of going from selfish to selfless. Are we there yet? Nope. Not until we are perfected in heaven. Yet we are called to be on that path.

I tell my clients that the path to redemption is being on the road from selfish to selfless. To the extent that we do more acts that are more selfless than selfish, we are healthier and happier. People in recovery are well aware that working the 12th Step, the “service step” is the way to maintain sober living. We all need to be working the “serving others” step over the “serving self” lifestyle.

We are in the process of redemption. We are not completed projects, but we are a work in progress. Jesus wants us to be on the path of redemption, not yet perfect, but on the right road.  

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the plan to perfection, which is following Jesus, Amen

COVID Grief

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

In having a discussion the other day with a client who has heightened anxiety due to the presence of COVID-19 in the past year, I recognized symptoms of grief. My clients who suffer from anxiety have been particularly hard hit by the confounding effects of COVID. It also dawned on me that collectively, as a society, we are grieving.

We are grieving losses that we experienced due to the presence of the Coronavirus, but we are also grieving another loss- what could have been. The things that we missed due to COVID. We are at times sad, angry, and feeling helpless about our current state. In the absence of a tangible villain, we often lash out at one another. The increases in violence over the past year have been well documented, as well as being truly inexplicable rationally.   We have a collective sense of grief, but we have no specific common loss to mourn.  

Indeed, many people have lost loved ones directly as a result of COVID-19. I know several who have perished. However, for the most part, it is not the loss of a friend or family member to the disease as much as our loss of freedom, and our lost sense of control.

So, in a sense, we are all, in some ways, grieving certain losses. Perhaps just understanding that we all have experienced SOME kind of loss can get us into a more empathic approach to dealing with our collective grief.

Maybe that is the common bond that can unite us just a little better these days.

Prayer: Lord, help us to mourn with those who mourn- all of us, Amen

Psalm 103

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

Psalm 103:8-13

One of the homework assignments that I often give to clients is to read Psalm 103. This Psalm is so reassuring of God’s love for us, and it is especially important for people who grew up with an idea of God as an angry, distant, judging father.

My favorite passage in this Psalm is about God being the father who has “compassion on his children”. The King James version has a lovely translation- “he pities us like little children”. The picture given to me by a friend years ago is that of a father beckoning his toddler, just learning to walk, to come to him. The father knows that the child will probably fail time and again, but he continues to be on his knee, encouraging the child and beckoning her forward. The father does not chastise the child for falling, indeed, he knows that the child is just that, a learning child who will fail time and again in order to learn to walk.

So, our heavenly father is that. A loving father who would have us learn to walk to him, knowing that we will fail often, but that our ultimate destination is the father.

That, I think is the intent of this Psalm. Like I tell my clients, read this often, and learn the nature and character of the father who loves you.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your patience and loving kindness with us, Amen.

Designated Worry

 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes                                                                                                                                                                            Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

I spoke to a client recently who has generalized anxiety. This often manifests to her as intrusive thoughts which distract her from her current activity. The distractions can be either external (messy room, clutter) or internal (“I need to be doing this or that before I forget it”, etc.). Both are manifestations of that nagging little voice of anxiety that reminds us that something isn’t right, or something needs to be done- but it is typically never enough. Never enough, that is, to quell the anxious thoughts for very long.

I suggested to her that practical behaviors can help to combat the intrusive thoughts. Often we can’t help that thoughts just pop into our head. Our brains are always at work (thank God). We can however, control our reactions to those thoughts. We can manage, behaviorally, those thoughts which are hard to control.

I suggested to her that she have a scrap of paper, or a pad, next to her computer, and that she write down those thoughts which remind her of things she ought to do- the never ending “Do List” that is often not practical anyway. After all, anxiety is defined as irrational fears, or overreactions to actual reality. When the thought comes that she should be doing something else- a distraction to her current needed work- she write down that thought, whatever it might be, so that she can attend to it on her own manageable time frame. She becomes in control of the process.

This does several things. First, it gives her a sense of control of her behaviors and her own time schedule. Next, it honors the thought by writing it down. She does not need to try to dismiss it (that often does not work), rather, she delegates it to another, more practical time that she controls. She is then not trying to shove thoughts out of her head. She is recognizing them, taking control of when she wants to take care of them, then gets on with her needed task.  In the counseling world, that technique is called “designated worry”.

As I have said before, getting those unwanted thoughts out of our head and on to paper gives us a sense of management. Control is the antidote to worry. The key is to know what we CAN control, and what we CANNOT control.

Prayer: Lord, help us to discern what we can control. The rest we give to you, 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