Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Power in Powerlessness

I was having a conversation with a colleague recently about the powerlessness I sometimes feel in the face of recent world events; widespread racism, genocide, civil wars, terrorism, the list goes on. If I’m not careful, I can easily become overwhelmed and dejected about the state of the world. What often happens is that in these moments we do nothing, and we feel badly.

Even more destructive is when this feeling happens in the course of our every day lives. When we feel that we can do nothing to impact the state of affairs in our lives it can leave us feeling depressed, hopeless, and dejected. Often when people are depressed, they feel that life happens “at” them, that they have no say in what occurs, and therefore shouldn’t put forth the effort to do things differently. First, I think it’s important to note that this is not always the case. Sometimes, there are changes you can make that can positively impact your life. If you feel as though you’ve lost touch with your social support system, reach out to a friend via email, text, or phone call. If you aren’t getting your needs met in a relationship, make sure you have made those needs known. If you are holding a grudge, work to forgive. If you find yourself feeling stuck, ask yourself:

Have I really tried everything I can to make this situation different?

Sometimes, the answer to that question is yes. Sometimes, you have made every move you can make, and things are still aren’t going your way. In this situation, I’d like to suggest that the “right amount”of powerless can actually be liberating. Confession time: I’m a control freak. It’s better than it was, but it’s still not where it could be (I’m sure my husband can attest to this!). In my perfect world, my 5 year plan in a color-coded spreadsheet would unfold in a perfectly synchronized manner. Over the course of my life, I have learned over and over again that this is just not the way the world works. We make plans, and then things change. Sometimes even our most carefully orchestrated plans fall to pieces before our eyes. Here’s where the liberating powerlessness comes in: our plans are limited by our human nature. I can only make plans about things that I can see, hear, experience, or imagine. God, on the other hand, sees everything and knows everything. So God’s plans for us have the capacity to be bigger and better, more complex, more fulfilling, than anything we can create for ourselves. Check out these promises:

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.- Proverbs 19:21

The power in powerlessness is that we open ourselves up to the awesomeness that is a life orchestrated by the Creator. If we do this, we can have the audacity to believe that we can conquer life, even if we don’t understand every step in the process. This I know for sure: we can accomplish more with God than we can alone. A part of this walk is that as we relinquish our own power, God’s power can be fully shone. There’s a reason “I Surrender All” is one of the most popular hymns in the church. I looked up the lyrics to the song online, and found this last verse:

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

The “sacred fame” is the power in powerlessness. When we stop trying to control the whole world, we can actually enjoy it. There can be a comfort in knowing that we have done all we can do, and things are out of our control. It gives us a chance to acknowledge our vulnerability, our limitations, and our humanness. It also gives us a chance to seek comfort in the omnipotence of God and the perfectness of God’s plan for our lives. Surrender is a process. Once we admit we don’t know it all, we can give ourselves permission to need help. Once we admit we need help, we can get help! It’s not simple, but it is rewarding.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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Moving while Grieving

I thought about titling this post Moving Forward from Grief or something like that, but I intentionally didn’t want to send the message that at some point you just “get over” a loss. Maybe for some people that happens. But often, when you experience the loss of a loved one, your life is different forever. Not always in a bad way, but things just aren’t the same. You develop a new sense of normalcy. For some of us there might always be a void. So, you move while you grieve, because it’s a reality that life has to keep going. But how do you do that?

from http://avenuescounselingcenter.org/grief-hangover/
from http://avenuescounselingcenter.org/grief-hangover/

I think an important step in the process is to work to accept the fact that things won’t ever be the same. Longing for the familiarity of “life before” is natural but it can also stunt our progression. Things won’t be exactly the same, and that has to be ok. When I think back to losing my dad 7 years ago, I remember being so confused by the idea that life could go on without him. It just didn’t seem possible. He had been such an integral part of my life (and the lives of so many others), that I could not fathom a world without him walking around. For weeks, I would call his cell phone, expecting to hear his voice, before I even realized what I was doing.  But still, every morning the sun rose, my day started, and I had things to do. The world did, in fact, keep turning without him. That didn’t necessarily make my days seem easier, but I did begin to believe they were possible.

For people with whom we’ve had important relationships, it can help to think about how that relationship can remain with you in a different form. This is certainly connected with your religious and spiritual beliefs. As a Christian, I believe that people’s spirits continue after their physical bodies die.  So for me, there was the hope that he was watching over me, still with me in some way. When we knew he was dying, my dad and I made a deal that if we needed to talk after he died, it would be in a dream. Now, I am so grateful we had that conversation. It was his promise to me that his dying wasn’t an eternal goodbye and it was our promise to each other that our connection was bigger than physical bodies. So, while his physical presence left me long ago, I’m still very connected to him. I often dream of him- usually they are mundane conversations about the goings on of my life. It was how we spent much of our time together while he lived, and what I’ve missed the most. But during those dreams I am reminded of his wisdom, the wise counsel he gave me, and I can feel him cheering me on, even if when I wake up he’s gone again. Death can take a person from us, but it can never take away our relationship with them. Whether the death is anticipated or sudden, we have the opportunity to rework the relationship we have with the person we lost so they don’t have to be completely gone from our lives.

Sometimes, we need a tangible reminder of the person we lost. That can be in the form of a picture, a trinket, an item of clothing, whatever the case may be. For some, it helps to keep the person close in that way. I’ve had lots of milestones since my dad died- things that I would have wanted a pep talk from him before, or wanted to see his face smiling in the crowd; my college graduation, licensure exams, my wedding day, the day I received my PhD, the list goes on. On each of those days, though he wasn’t with me, I took him with me in some way- a sticky note, a ring he wore, a piece of jewelry he gave me, something. I’ll probably do it until I’m old and gray. It’s my way of honoring him, of carrying him with me as my life changes and develops.

Often, the thing that helps the most is to talk about the person we lost, either with people who knew them, or people who didn’t. Just the act of talking about the person keeps them with you, reminds you of what they meant to you, and keeps their memory alive. The more you talk, the more you understand and the greater your opportunities for moving toward healing. For some, it’s helpful to visit the gravesite or look through the funeral  program. For others, they like to extend energy outward- reconnecting with social groups, activities, or other endeavors. This doesn’t represent a betrayal to the person you lost. Our loved ones would want us to have healthy, fulfilling lives in their absence.

As you begin to adjust to the “new normal” there are often logistics involved- bills, insurance payments, new organization of who does what household duty, etc. As for help with this if you need support. Some people prefer to handle these things alone, and others need someone to hold their hand. Do what you need to do. Handling these things scratches at the wound of your pain- a jarring reminder your loved one is gone. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Prioritize the most urgent needs and save the others for when you’re ready.

These things help, but understand that there will still be times when sadness rushes over you with no apparent trigger. For me, it was the shower. I don’t know if it was because it was always quiet time, or because I was alone. I’m not sure, but the reality of him being gone often hit me in that vulnerable moment- I cried for him and for the moments I would never get to share with him. He didn’t see my graduations. He didn’t walk me down the aisle. He will never meet his grandchildren. Now, it’s not as often, but it still happens, 7 years later. I’m ok with that. I’m glad to have known a person whose death can bring me to tears so long after their passing. Then, there will be other times where you feel great and you feel a sense of great joy. I had anticipated that my wedding day would be a day a grieved for my dad, felt his absence keenly. Instead, I felt his presence. I felt him beaming as I walked down the aisle. I felt his blessing on the life choices I’d made since he died. I felt pure joy. All of this is grist for the mill when moving while grieving. There is no prescription. There are no right answers. Just keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. It gets better.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices! Tell me, what are some other things that have helped during the grieving process?