Monthly Archives: November 2014

As we prepare for the celebration of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take some time to talk about just how good Thankfulness is for you! All of us have problems, stress, issues, you name it. Sometimes those things can breed a tendency to complain about life rather than focus on the things we are thankful for. Here are some reasons thankfulness is a good perspective to take:

1. God asks us to. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says:

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (NLT)

It’s a part of a longer passage where Paul is giving guidance to the Thessalonians about how to live a Christian lifestyle.  I was sitting in bible study a few weeks ago and someone talked about their struggle with this passage: “How can I thank God for the trouble I experience?” The response was, the instruction is not to thank God for the struggle. It is to thank God in the struggle. We do this because we believe in the supremacy of God’s will, and because we believe in God’s omnipotent protection. Things might not look good, but we still have a reason to be thankful.  A few weeks ago (the same week of that bible study!), I was in a car accident and my car was totaled. My first feelings were anger, frustration, confusion, and worry as I began thinking about all the barriers this would create. Then, one of the first responders came up to me, looked at my car, and said: “You really should have been hurt. It could have been a lot worse.” Those simple words helped me to see the whole picture. Two cars were totaled, another one damaged, and everyone walked away without a scratch. How could I not be thankful in a moment like that?

2. It changes our perspective. As I mentioned above, a focus on things we have to be thankful for can shift our whole perspective. We always have things to complain about. It’s just the nature of human existence. But we also can always find something to be thankful about. Imagine if you spent a whole day focusing on things to be thankful for rather than things you could complain about! Focusing on gratitude reminds us of things that are going well and fights against what can sometimes be a human tendency to focus on things that we experience as negative. It helps us to see the whole of our existence and gives us a reality check when we get grumpy or jaded.

3. It creates a powerful witness. Our thankfulness sends a clear, compelling message to other people about what it’s like to be in connection with God. It’s a reminder of the joy you can experience when you know that someone’s always got your back and when you can focus on the good even in a difficult situation. If you let it, thankfulness can snowball into joy that is far and above the limits of the life situation you are struggling with. It’s the kind of joy that will have people wondering “What’s gotten into him?” or “What is she doing with her life?” And when they ask, you will have an answer that demonstrates who you are and whose you are!

4. It’s contagious. Your thankfulness could provide the shift in perspective that someone else needs. In therapy, we call this a “reframe”. A reframe is when you view a situation from a different perspective or point of view. This is particularly helpful when the alternative point of view leads to us feeling a happier emotion. For example, let’s say you have this experience at work:

Original thought: My boss keeps giving me all this extra work, and I don’t think it’s fair.

Reframe: I am thankful that my boss has enough confidence in me to give me extra responsibility.

Same situation. Different perspective. Different emotional experience. When you operate in an attitude of gratitude, you send the implicit message for other people to do the same in their own lives. You have the ability to positively impact the people around you. When you operate in gratitude, you can begin to see and acknowledge the good in the lives of others as well. Share the wealth!

5. It calms the mind, the body, and the spirit. Research indicates that having an “attitude of gratitude” actually leads to better physical and mental health outcomes- less stress, more feelings of happiness, better relationships, and life satisfaction. Check out this website for more info. This research is not just about the subjective (or personal) experience of stress. At a physiological level, people who practice gratitude have less of the stress hormone cortisol in their systems. Cortisol is good for responding to an immediate physical threat, but terrible for overall health- it can lead to weight gain, memory loss, difficulty sleeping, and other negative outcomes. People who are thankful in this way tend to be happier, healthier, less anxious, less depressed, and more connected with others. Now, this isn’t to say that switching up your perspective won’t be challenging. Sure it will. You’re human. But, it will be worth it. Not only is our gratitude a gift to God, but we also reap the benefits. It’s a win/win situation.

So, here’s your challenge for the day:

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Here are some other ways you can cultivate an attitude of thankfulness:

  • Keep a gratitude journal for a full week: Write down everything you have to be thankful about each day and review it at the end of the day.
  • Write a list of 3 or 4 people you are thankful for and write them letters or emails outlining the reasons you are thankful for your relationship with them.
  • Go out of your way to say thank you when people perform a small act of kindness: opening a door, bringing you a message, offering a smile or a warm word.
  • During your prayer time, focus only on things that you are thankful for and reserve asking for things for another prayer.
  • Post things you are thankful for to social media and invite friends and followers to do the same.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

Reasons You Should Be Praying for Your Pastor

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I was having a conversation with some Minister’s Wives and Widows about some of the challenges associated with being a “PK” (pastor’s kid) and it reminded me of the heavy mantle that pastors and their families are charged with carrying in the church. That reality was all I knew growing up, and it had both perks and challenges. Because I was a kid, I didn’t really have choices or even the skills sometimes to navigate the challenges I faced. I think my parents did an awesome job trying to provide balance for me, and still, there were times when it was really hard. There were other times when it was really cool. Both of those things are true. Preparing for the meeting really caused me to reflect on some of my experiences and now that as an adult I’m not in the same position, I am reminded of the importance of praying for my pastor and his family. Here are some reasons why:

1. Pastors and their families are always being watched. Growing up, I almost always felt like I was “in the spotlight.” Because my dad was a pastor and my mom was a minister, people knew who I was, even if they didn’t know who is was. I could pretty much count on any little mistake or accomplishment being reported to my parents quickly. (Actually, that still happens!) Pastors and their families are humans just like the rest of us, but our expectations often equate them to superhuman robots who aren’t allowed to make mistakes. It’s just not realistic. Your pastor, despite her close relationship with God, will sometimes make an error. His children might not be able to recite every single memory verse from last week’s Sunday school lesson. This is not some great tragedy. It is human nature. As a child, this sometimes felt to me that I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes and I tried to perfect. To be fair, this was not an expectation placed on me by my parents. But, I felt it and carried it and still fight with it to this day.  I try to remember that my pastor and his family are humans like me. I try not to put them on an impossibly high pedestal.

2. Pastors and their families care deeply about the people they serve. Being in leadership at a church comes at great emotional cost. All of us have friends and family that we care about and want the best for. Just imagine if a couple hundred extra people were added to your list! It takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy to care about, pray for, support, and love on the people in our congregations. The challenge is that because they are in a leadership role, we sometimes forget to tangibly give them that love and support back. Pastor’s are on call 24/7. I remember 3am phone calls, after church visits, late nights, early mornings, you name it. All of that, they do in love. Because they care about their parishioners- mind, body, and soul. The least we can do in return is pray for them, that God restores everything that they pour out into us. It’s a big responsibility and it comes at a cost.

3. Relationships can be challenging for Pastors and their families. They can be tricky because people want you to be there for them, but they can’t always handle when you have needs. Maybe they want to tell you certain things, but they have this perception that there are other parts that should be kept from you because of your perceived status. Guess what? This happens to the kids too! It can be hard to find people with whom you can be your whole self and not be worried about it being shared or held against you later. The life of ministry can be lonely- people don’t know how to interact with you sometimes. They might think that they have to censor themselves around you. You don’t get invited to stuff if certain activities are going on. The reasons make sense, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult.

4. Pastors can have an over-developed sense of responsibility. As noted in “2” above, pastors are often the kind of people who care deeply about others. It can make them really good at their jobs, and really bad at caring for themselves. My father was the victim of burnout the led to depression. He did a great job being a pastor but he had to relearn how to care for himself. Pastors are more likely to experience marital and family problems, health issues, be overweight, and suffer from mental health concerns than the regular population. All you have to do is a quick Google search to see how much of an issue this is. In addition to praying for our pastors, we can encourage them to take time away from us to restore. How about a paid vacation? How about showing up to church even when you pastor isn’t preaching? How about respecting other church leaders so the pastor doesn’t feel like things will go awry if they go away for a week?

These are just a few reasons to pray for your pastor; there are many, many more. The bottom line is they need you to pray for them just like you need them to pray for you! Take a minute today and pray for your pastor.
Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

 

Got Boundaries?

Last week, I shared 3 tips for working toward healthy relationships. Another one of the ways we can have healthy relationships with colleagues, friends, and family is (drumroll please) BOUNDARIES!   You may be wondering:

“Why boundaries would be so important? Aren’t relationships about connecting to people?”

Yes, relationships are about healthy connection. I can be fully connected to you when I am safe and whole. I am safe and whole when I have good boundaries. Boundaries help us to discern which relationships are helpful and fulfilling to us, and which would be hurtful and draining. They help us to love others and ourselves at the same time. So what do boundaries look like? Here are a couple of examples:
– you can witness a conflict between two friends, family members or coworkers without being swept into the drama
– you can love family member with an addiction or other issue without enabling and pepetuating their issues
-you can be supportive to a friend going through a difficult time without becoming overwhelmed by their pain
-you are aware of both your strengths and your limitations
-you can admit when you are deeply bothered by the actions of a friend or loved one and ask for a different response
-you can say no without apologizing for it

For those of us who are natural caretakers, some of the above feel like really difficult things to do. Some of us worry that if we say no, people will realize they don’t need us and move on. Some of us worry about facing the anger or disappointment of others.  Some of us worry that if we’re not involved in everything, we’ll miss something important.  Some of us wouldn’t know what to do if we spent some quiet time alone and we use frenzy to avoid ourselves.  Even Jesus set boundaries! Here are just a few:

-He didn’t allow other people to define who he was (John 1)
-He made it known that he wasn’t happy with inappropriate use of God’s temple (Matthew 12)
– He went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Luke 22)

Boundaries don’t make us bad people,  or bad friends, or bad family members. They are important for healthy, sustainable relationships.  When we don’t set boundaries, relationships can become overwhelming and destructive, even if they are loving. If this is brand new to you, take some baby steps. Is there something you’ve been bothered about, but have been keeping it in for fear of causing a fuss?  What about an activity or task you really don’t have time or energy for, but you feel obligated to do it. This may be difficult at first, but over time it can make for relationships that fulfill you rather than sucking the life out of you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!
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Right Relationships- You Choose.

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I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about relationships (my own and those of others) and I’ve been thinking about some ways we can make choices that support the health of our relationships instead of causing us to feel unfulfilled. This was really sparked when I was having a conversation with some folks about self care and people kept saying that others in their lives won’t “let” them take time for themselves. Let them? That is too much power for someone else to have over your life! We have to take responsibility for our part in any relationship. Most things aren’t actually one-sided, although they may feel that way. So, here are some choices you can make that support healthy relationships:

1. Ask for what you need. Remember that time you got frustrated because your friend or significant other didn’t do that thing you really wanted them to do? Think back: did you ask? Or did you just assume that they should know because you were dropping hints? People aren’t mind readers (even though we sometimes want them to be). When we actually express what we need, then we can hold people accountable for meeting our expectations. Now, this doesn’t mean you will always get what you need. People are imperfect, and sometimes, they are not willing to give you what you ask. But, if you ask, at least you know that you have made your request known rather than carrying secret resentment because your secret needs aren’t met. It’s just unfair! Let’s say you are meeting some friends after work and you’ve had a long day. During the meal, you sit quietly, pouting, while the others carry on a conversation cheerfully. You leave feeling resentful because you believe they should noticed that you were upset and asked you what’s wrong. Maybe. But you also could have just said “Hey- I’m having a bad day. I need to vent.” In one scenario your leave feeling frustrated, and in the other you potentially leave feeling better. You choose.

2. Have reasonable expectations.  Before you make those expectations known, do a little reflection. Is what you are asking reasonable based on the relationship you have with the person? Is what you are asking reasonable of a human being? How would you react if someone asked this of you? Here’s where compromise comes in. We can’t get 100% of what we want all the time, but we can recognize and be grateful for a loved one’s attempts to give you what you need. Imagine how you would feel if you tried to give someone something they needed and they responded in a way that made you feel it was not enough. Relationships are dynamic, whether they are familial, platonic, or romantic. Most situations are best resolved when people can find a way to meet in the middle. All or nothing thinking when it comes to negotiating needs in a relationship can cause resentment on both parts! You can choose to focus on the small percentage that doesn’t meet your expectation, or the large percentage that does. Relationships are a negotiation between imperfect people- we don’t always get it right. If you feel your expectations are appropriate, and it seems the person can’t or won’t work toward meeting you halfway, then there’s a conversation there too.

3. Take care of yourself. If you are an adult, you are responsible for making sure you are ok. Always. This doesn’t mean we don’t want or need others in our lives, because we do. It does mean that we shouldn’t place our physical, emotional, or spiritual wellness in the hands of anyone but ourselves. Sometimes, we depend on other people too much to make us happy, to the extent that we don’t have any resources when we are alone. Then, we get mad when that person wasn’t there for us in our time of need. We can’t expect one person to be there for us at any time day or night- that’s not the way human relationships work. Not to mention, this kind of dynamic can begin to have a parasitic feel, where one person drains the other. Not only does the person getting drained become more and more exhausted form the relationship, but the one doing the draining becomes more dependent and less self-sufficient. We can make our relationships healthier by attending to our own needs by setting boundaries as needed, understanding and preparing for the things that most stress and overwhelm us, and learning how to be content with ourselves when we are alone. This is something I have learned in my brief years being married. If I have a horrible day at work, I am responsible for taking some time to get myself together before I get home. I might go to the gym first, take a longer way home, or stop by a store to get myself in check a little bit. This doesn’t mean I don’t seek out support from my husband when I get home- I will if I need to. But it ensures that I don’t come home every day in a funk- that would impact our ability to connect after a long day. Sometimes this means saying the dreaded “n” word- NO! People will ask us to do things (especially those of use who are naturally caretakers) but it doesn’t mean you have to say yes! (imagine you are the recipient in point 2). “No” doesn’t mean you don’t care about your loved ones or that you don’t want the best for them. It means you are human and you can’t do everything all the time. It’s a way for you to take care of yourself and a way for those you are in relationship to understand that you have human limitations.

So, if you’re feeling unfulfilled, try making some adjustments and see what happens! More next week on negotiating boundaries.

What are some other reasons you think we can be left unfulfilled in relationships?