Love Means…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres                                                                                                                                                                                          I Corinthians 13:4-7          

Love has many meanings in English, but we really just have one word for it. According to research on definitions of love in the Bible, the ancient Greeks were very specific and particular in their words for love, and they broke it down this way. They had four words to describe different forms of love precisely: “Storge” or family love;  “Philia”, or brotherly love; “Agape”, or sacrificial or unconditional love; and “Eros”, sexual or marital love.

The “Storge” type love (pronounced Stor-hay), was for family love, a deep and protective affection that binds families tightly together. Philia, or brotherly love, is commonly known. We all know Philadelphia (City of Love), and the irony of the “loving” Philly sports fans showing love to people on the field in their own unique ways. They actually booed Santa Claus, but that is another story. Phileo type love is “I love you as you love me”. Good type of love for neighbors and communities, but not the highest ideal of it.

Eros, the one we are likely most in touch with in popular culture, has to do with passion and sexual attraction. It arouses a lot of energy, but often, like an intense fire, it can burn hot and quickly, and it may burn itself out.

Agape love is the ideal. It is the love God has for his creation. Selfless and unconditional, there is nothing the loved one can do to escape such love. It is there despite any actions that may try to thwart it. It is supernatural.

At times, we all display these types of love for others. They are all good in their own way, but the key is to recognize each for what it is, and not to deceive ourselves that we love better than we actually do. We love imperfectly. But as I said in an earlier reflection, acceptance of imperfect is OK. We just need to be on the right path.

We are called to a more perfect love. Fortunately, we have a Friend who loves us right where we are, wherever that might be along the road.

Prayer: Thank you Father for the unconditional love you have for us, Amen.

 

 

What’s Love Got to do With It?

But I have to say
I’ve been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a sweet old fashioned notion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken  
 Tina Turner Song (1984)
A real love for others will chase those worries away. The thought of being punished is what makes us afraid. It shows we have not really learned to love.   
 I John 4:18

So, if ever there were a topic to discuss that is so large and so complex, it is love. There are many aspects of it, of course. More popular songs have been written about the topic than any other subject. It is a topic near and dear to us, and it is of crucial importance. It is misunderstood, misused, and so often missing in a world that needs it as its guiding principle.

Romantic love is intoxicating. It is chemistry. It is exciting. It is incomplete. Of course, we are completely enamored with it.

I see so often in relationships that people will say something like, “I love her, but I’m not in love with her.”  That is a convenient way to say that the physical intoxication, the romance, the chemistry, has faded away. So, now the relationship’s energy is not like it was. This often becomes the “permission” to seek to break off from the partner. That kind of love is incomplete. In a committed relationship, when you have “lost that loving feeling” (yeah, another old school song reference, look it up) is not the time to look for another partner. It is the time to work on real loving.

Real love is a decision. Real love takes sacrifice. There has never been true love without sacrifice. Just look at the example of Jesus, who showed the cost of real love.

So, in the coming days, we will be looking at some aspects of love.  Would love to have you with me on the journey!

Prayer: Father, give us better understanding of your loving nature so that we can heal your creation, Amen.

Your Turn…

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God                                                                                          Philippians 1:3

Today’s thought is about my old friend, Viktor Frankl. He developed the concept of “logotherapy”, the concept of therapy that delves into one’s meaning for living in order to find healing. Frankl believed that the healing thing for humans is to get in touch with the things which give their life meaning. I believe that he bridged that gap in the psychoanalytic theory that brought people to the idea of living out the things that were deep in their soul.

Rather than just go into our childhood and ferret out those things which contributed to our broken thinking, Frankl challenged people to find why they were put on planet earth in the first place. I think his perspective was one of the first to say in therapy, essentially, in my interpretation- “it’s not all about you pal, how are you going to impact your fellow human beings? In doing so, you will find the answer to your problems.”

I like it!

So, on another topic…

I have been writing daily reflections every day since April 1, 2020. Prior to that, I had written on this blog very irregularly (yeah, almost never).

I have enjoyed this process, which has become one of my daily disciplines. It has helped me to deal with this COVID-19 mess, and I thank you for hanging with me in this, and the encouragement you have given.

I have just been counting on my own musings and experience to come up with topics for the day. I began to think that it was time for some feedback. What do YOU want me to write about? If there is a topic that you would like me to discuss, I would be happy to try to tackle it.

So, send me your thoughts. I cannot guarantee that I will cover every idea presented, but I will  make an effort to cover every idea that is submitted..

Thank you so much for the regular comments and “Facebook likes” that so many of you have given. Those put oxygen in my tank! 😊

Prayer: Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God, Amen                                                                                          

 

After Great Pain…

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?                                                                                                                   Emily Dickinson 
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted                                                                                                                                 Matthew 5:3-4
 

I am really not into poetry. I do not understand it well, and I prefer prose as my expressive medium. Yet that first stanza of Emily Dickinson’s classic poem has always stayed with me. I remember some times after physical pain that, when the pain subsided, there was a feeling that I could not, and still really cannot, describe. It was like feeling relief, but more than that, it was the sense of feeling nothing.

This I believe, in a way, is how we react to certain traumatic events. That pause, that reprieve, allows us to shove the pain far away in our minds. We do not want to revisit it, so we file it away and try to convince ourselves that it may not have happened.

We see this in trauma work regularly. Dickinson’s line – And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’? calls to mind a sense of timelessness. Time gets lost after trauma, at least for a while, while the mind tries to heal.

I began thinking of this as we encounter our COVID-19 world crisis. It is clearly a life-shaping event, and it is also one we share with the whole world. When this crisis subsides- and it will- how will we make sense of it?

Will we, as the world has collectively done after some crises, somehow forget the enormity of it as it fades into the background and as other crises arise?

I trust that after this crisis gradually fades, we will have learned some very important lessons about our collective responsibility for one another. I hope that we will be better prepared for another worldwide pandemic, when one inevitably arises again.

Life will again be “normal”, but in our quest for normal, I hope that we will have learned from the past, and that we put into place safeguards for the future.

Prayer: Lord help us to learn from the pain we are enduring, to redeem it for good for future generations, Amen.

 

So, What’s Your Plan?

Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit                                                                                                                                                                                         3 John 1:2

Recently I told a client that her homework (remember, I always give homework to my clients) was to write fiction.  She was to create a fictional character who can express the things that she cannot share in the first person. Maybe she could do it in the third person.

I had just read a piece about the value of fiction writing in expression of our true selves. Somehow, when we can get outside of the confines of people potentially judging us, and when we can put our words in the mouth of a fictional character, we can be freer to express.

That concept seemed to ring true to me. I have written a novel, and I am working on a sequel. No, I do not expect to be a best seller. Or even much of a “seller”. I write because I enjoy it. I can speak through my characters, and it is really enjoyable- my therapy, if you will. I do not expect others to derive as much joy from my writing as I do, but I am so pleased when my writing does hit home for people.

My point today is, on the heels of yesterday’s blog about depression, I asked, “what is your therapy?” We all need therapy for heaven’s sake. I hope the “stigma ship” on that has sailed long ago (OK, it hasn’t).

What are the things that you intentionally do to make yourself a little healthier physically, spiritually and emotionally? What is your program for health?

Years ago, when we started a recovery service at our church (The Next Step), I was challenged by my teammates who were all in active recovery from some substance abuse to “name my program”. They all had theirs, and even a sponsor to be accountable to.

I had to think about that, and I came up with the things that I intentionally do to stay healthy in all phases of my life. It was a good process, because I was able to actually name those things, those disciplines, and therefore be more intentional in practicing them.

So, I challenge my readers to write out your program for health. What is it that you do regularly to stay healthy- spiritually, physically and emotionally? No need to share unless you really want to. I think it will be a good process for you.

It was for me.

Prayer: Father, thank you for giving us the tools to work toward health. Direct our ways toward healthy living, Amen

 

COVID Depression

I cry out to God; yes, I shout.
Oh, that God would listen to me!
When I was in deep trouble,
I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
I think of God, and I moan,
overwhelmed with longing for his help. Interlude
You don’t let me sleep.
I am too distressed even to pray!
I think of the good old days,
long since ended,
when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
Has the Lord rejected me forever?
Will he never again be kind to me?
Is his unfailing love gone forever?
Have his promises permanently failed?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he slammed the door on his compassion? Interlude
10 And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
11 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
12 They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
13 O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
14 You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
15 By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Interlude
16 When the Red Sea saw you, O God,
its waters looked and trembled!
The sea quaked to its very depths.
17 The clouds poured down rain;
the thunder rumbled in the sky.
Your arrows of lightning flashed.

18 Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;
the lightning lit up the world!
The earth trembled and shook.

19 Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
20 You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds                                                                                                       Psalm 77

I don’t know if the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) people have come up with a revision to include a diagnosis of “Covid Depression”. They might. Maybe they should. This virus has been in our lives for the greater part of the year 2020, and it has colored everything in our lives. Any issues that my clients may have had prior to this virus and its aftermath have been greatly exacerbated by the current climate. It literally makes everything worse.

Whether or not you were depressed prior to the COVID crisis, I can bet that you carry a low level of depression now. I do. Anytime our standards of stability are upset, we respond with some reaction. We try to regain normal. The presence of COVID has stymied many of those attempts at trying to regain normal. Our response is often a complex brew of sadness, anger, fear, and helplessness. Collectively, that jumble of feelings can be called depression.

Reactive depression is a thing. We all experience it in our lives, and we then must do something about it. Feeling like there is no escape is absolutely the worst place to be, but for a while, that is the case. Then we recognize that we can VISIT that place of depression, but we do not want to LIVE there.

For me, I recognize the signs in myself. I am a little bit irritable, sad about the fact that this summer does not really FEEL like summer. I wonder when this oppression will end. How does our economy survive? When does the vaccine get tested and made available? So many questions to which I have no answers.

So, I do what I can do, and I try not to get bogged down by what I cannot do. I can look at my attitude and remind myself of the many blessings I have. I can wear a mask and social distance, because I think that is what good science recommends. I can do the things that at least approach normal, like eating out at restaurants on their patios. I can continue to exercise and work. I can reach out to others to support them.

So, that is my therapy plan. I assume that you have some “COVID Depression” like me. What is your therapy plan?

 

Prayer: Father, you know the big picture that we cannot see. I trust that your plans are good and healing for us, 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
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Fairness- the quality or state of being fair especially : fair or impartial treatment : lack of favoritism toward one side or another
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
 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.

 

One Day at a Time

This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.                                                         Psalm 118:24

Addiction is a complex interaction of brain chemicals, behavior, and social factors. We are all comprised of our physical, emotional and spiritual components, and recovery must happen in all those spheres. We fall into addictions because we are “medicating”- escaping pain of some type by using a chemical substance, food, sex, gaming, gambling, or anything that stimulates a brain response of dopamine excitement.

Physical addiction involves the dopamine cycle. Use of drugs, alcohol, or any substance or behavior can cause the brain to produce less dopamine in response to the artificial introduction by drugs, or addictive behaviors. Therefore, chronic use begins the insidious cycle of dopamine depletion. Less dopamine produced by the brain causes drug-seeking behavior in order to get the “high” that dopamine can give. I would always tell clients that it eventually “takes more and more of the drug to produce less and less effect”. This is also why, in early recovery, addicts suffer from depression. Their dopamine has been depleted to a large degree from the chronic substance use. It is a vicious cycle!

As I said in an earlier post, we tend to “medicate” with short-term fixes to feel good immediately. Anything that makes us feel good immediately also has addictive potential. So, the easy answer is not to get started in “medicating” to feel good right away. Yet, we all try to escape pain. It is a completely natural and reasonable human act. And we also recognize that the use and overuse of powerful pain medications has given rise to recent heroin epidemics.

It is also true that some brains are much more predisposed toward addiction. Some are blessed with low addiction potential- many are not.

The remedy is always hard work, discipline, the help of community, therapy, and spiritual guidance. All remedies must be employed in order to heal, because addiction can destroy all levels of human body and spirit. Recovery is hard because another of those laws that we live by dictates that when we borrow in the present, we must pay back with interest in the future.

There is a high cost to addiction. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, the inevitable results of untreated addiction are jail, death or institution.

However, there is hope!

I have seen many, many stories of recovery which are completely uplifting. One of the phrases that is used in recovery 12 Step programs is “One Day at a Time”. Sometimes, when people are celebrating anniversaries of sobriety at the church’s recovery service, the leader will say “How do we do it?” The response is a rousing “One Day at a Time!”

People working a good recovery program are among the emotionally healthiest and spiritually strongest people I have ever met. Indeed, recovery is one day at a time, and so is the decision for physical, emotional and spiritual health.

We all can decide for health every day. We do it one day at a time.

Prayer: Father, we lift up those struggling right now with addictions. We all can relate to broken areas in our life. Thank you for the daily healing you can give, Amen

The First Step

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up                                                                                 James 4:10
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”                    Step 1 in the 12 Steps of AA

 

The first step in any journey is the hardest. It is the one that takes so much energy to muster up. In an earlier reflection, I had talked about the universal physics concept that “bodies which are at rest tend to stay at rest”- until a force is applied on them to give the energy to move. It takes a lot of energy to take the first step in dealing with an addiction. It is the recognition that your best efforts got you right here- addicted to something.

Yesterday, I asked my readers to name the addictions in their life. Remember, we all have certain things in our lives which can be defined as addictions. If that addiction is causing your life to somehow become unmanageable, that is, if it is causing problems in work, relationships or health, then it is time to consider doing something about it.

If you did that, you are doing great, and on the way to the first step of recovery- if you want it. Recognizing the addiction is a powerful, major step in dealing with the problem. Indeed, overcoming the denial is possibly the hardest of the steps. However, it is not enough just to own the problem. Then one must begin the difficult journey of deciding if they really want to recover.

I have seen countless times when someone with an addiction tells me that he/she “needs to stop drinking for their wife/husband”. While everyone needs a moment of clarity of the need for a change in their life, the motivation cannot simply be to “get their spouse off their back”. Such motivation leads to resentment, and charges that their spouse is “controlling” or eventually some reason why the recovery effort failed.

One needs to own the fact of addiction, then decide that they cannot do recovery alone- that they need help like having other people and submission to a Higher Power. The concept of “speaking something into existence” is a fascinating mystery. It is not a magical solution, but there is something mysterious and spiritual about the idea. When we name out loud to someone else that we intend to start a certain activity or mission, that mission suddenly becomes real. It was spoken out loud and the concept became alive and real.

Addiction recovery is much like the start of other hard journeys in life. The humility step is the hardest. However, it is the source of power to generate the energy which is needed to start the journey.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the simple steps for healing. The paradox of humility gives us access to your healing power, Amen

Are You Addicted?

We have cause to celebrate because the grace of God has appeared, offering the gift of salvation to all people.  Grace arrives with its own instruction: run away from anything that leads us away from God; abandon the lusts and passions of this world; live life now in this age with awareness and self-control, doing the right thing and keeping yourselves holy.                                                                                         Titus 2:11-12

 I have worked with a lot of people over the years who have addictions of various types. We can be addicted to anything. Anything.  The reason for that is the natural tendency to avoid pain or unpleasant situations or feelings. So, we look for remedies. The problem is that the remedy itself often becomes an addiction.

Addictions are shortcuts to feel better. They offer immediate gratification, and numb the pain. People use substances, at first to feel good- later they must use them just not to feel bad.  

Some of our addictions are somewhat innocuous and socially acceptable- for example,    my addiction to caffeine. That is one we even joke about, and it is a very common addiction. Then there are food addictions which are often socially acceptable, but are not good for our bodies, such as addiction to sugar- more or less a societal addiction.

Obviously, many addictions are not so harmless, and they are complex and dangerous. Anything that makes us feel good right away- something that immediately takes our brain’s pleasure center captive, is addictive. There are complex physical and emotional reasons for this, but suffice it to say, once the brain gets used to such chemical changes and the addiction takes over, recovery is monumentally difficult.

We will be exploring this further in the next few reflections. In the meantime, think about your addictions- we all have them!

Prayer: You have given us the remedy for a broken world, help us to deal with our own remedies which can be destructive, Amen.