Tag Archives: faith

When the Path Isn’t Straight

I hear a common sentiment in my clinical and vocational work that goes something like:

I didn’t do things the “right” way so I was delayed getting to the point I’m at now.

I really struggle with this sentiment for a number of reasons. First, I have heard SO MANY people say this! Almost every single person I know has at some point felt this way about our journey. If all of us feel this way, is there a possibility that there simply isn’t a right way?? I think a big pice of this is the issue we have with social comparison. We often compare ourselves to others in ways that aren’t helpful. A wise person once said “comparison is the thief of joy.” For me, that sentiment reveals a truth about the way we make evaluations about our own lives. We often compare what is happening in our lives to what we see of the lives of others. The difference is, we know our WHOLE lives- all of our shortcomings, mistakes, etc. However, when we look at the lives of others, all we see is the curated version of them they want us to see. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of blaming social media, but social media. Most folks don’t share about their bad moments to the extent they share about good ones. It’s human nature to actively present ourselves in positive ways. The danger of using only what people tell us as a method of comparison is that we inevitably end up viewing ourselves as less than, based on what is at best a half-truth! Someone posts about a new job they’ve received, and we don’t hear about the 15 or 20 rejection letters they got before that one yes. A friend shares wedding photos, but not mugshots of the breakups that came before. A new mother shares pictures of her maternity photo shoot, but may not have shared about a miscarriage that came a year before. Let me be clear; this is NOT a criticism of a positive-only social media presence. That is each person’s prerogative and right. However, I am suggesting that we should keep this reality in mind and work against not comparing ourselves to another’s social media avatar. Perception is not real life!

Second, who decides what is the “right” way? Are you actually talking about the expectations of the people around you? Is someone telling you that you “should” have done it one way or another? Psychologist Albert Ellis was famous for telling his clients that they were “should-ing all over” themselves (pun intended). If we were to critically evaluate the “shoulds” in our lives, many of us would find that they are really implicit and explicit messages we’ve received from others about how they believe we should do life. And, just because someone else told us to do something, doesn’t mean we have to! One of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood is that we have the opportunity to make our own decisions. We get to decide how much influence other people we have in our lives. Sometimes, that we means we block out the opinions of people we love and care about when those opinions are not in our best interest. They cannot walk in your shoes. They do not live your experience. They do not live with the consequences of your choices- you do! You deserve to create a life for yourself that matches YOUR wants and desires, not those of another person, regardless of how much you might love and admire that person. Does that mean you might make some mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But does that mean that, if you pay attention to yourself, you might stumble upon something that only you could have discovered about yourself and for yourself? Absolutely. Run your own life. Don’t give away your power to anyone else!

Lastly, consider that the “straight” path might not be the most fulfilling path. Sometimes, there simply isn’t one right answer. Most of us, without much work, can think of a time when we experienced an unexpected surprise; something we didn’t know was coming, maybe didn’t even want, but it ended up being exactly what we needed. I am a firm believe that even those things that seem like detours can have a powerful purpose in our lives. This is not the cookie cutter “everything has a reason” response. Sometimes, we have to work to find the purpose in detours and distractions. Every time you hit a wall, make a mistake, or feel frustrated, stop and ask yourself a simple question:

What is there for me to learn in this situation?

You might find that what best positions you for your end goal is the lessons you gleaned from the experiences you thought you weren’t supposed to have. You have an opportunity to make the most of the long road, and even celebrate it, rather than viewing it as a failure. A familiar scripture is a clear reminder remember that something can be gained form any situation:

“ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

So, when you are tempted to think less of yourself because you didn’t have a direct route, consider what you learned along the way. Consider that most of us are figuring out this windy path together. Consider that no matter what you have experienced, you still have the opportunity to live the life God crafted just for you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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10 Things Your Church Member with Mental Illness Wants You to Know

I’m a church girl- always have been, probably always will be. I love church, I love the people in church, and I love all the possibilities of what the church can be. What I don’t love, is the way the church can tend to brush difficult conversations under the rug or make people to feel as though the problems in their life are the simple result of not enough faith. It’s just not that simple. Bad things happen to people who deserve it, and bad things happen to those who don’t. One of the areas where we seem to throw the most blame is those suffering with mental illness. They somehow become the “black sheep” of our communities, those who suffer silently, who pretend everything is OK because they are worried they will be chastised if they admit they are drowning. I think that most of us have good intentions. Because we believe in God’s omnipotence, we offer faith as the cure-all for every ailment. While that’s helpful, it’s not good enough to stop there. We don’t tell people with heart disease to just pray. We tell them to pray, and then go to the doctor. Mental illness is no different. In fact, we NEED to talk about it because 1 in 5 Americans is living with a  mental illness, including the folks you go to church with every Sunday! If you took the time to talk to one of these folks, here are some things they might say

  1. I have already prayed about it, and I will continue to pray about it. But sometimes I pray and nothing has changed yet. I need something else in addition to prayer.
  2. I can’t just turn it off, or “think positively,” I struggle every day to do all the things I’m supposed to do, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by my negative thoughts and emotions.
  3. I don’t always need advice. Sometimes, I just need you to listen and to know that you are there and you support me.
  4. I’m scared to tell people about what I deal with on a daily basis because I’m afraid they will judge me or think I’m “crazy.” I’m not crazy, I just struggle.
  5. What I face is not just mental- it’s emotional and even physical at times.
  6. I have thought about suicide. I don’t want to die, but sometimes it seems like the only way out.
  7. There are times I feel like no one understands what I’m going through, so I keep things to myself. It helps when other people share that they have struggles too.
  8. I put on a brave face so people won’t think I’m weak or faithless. I worry that if they know how much I hurt, they would think I’m not capable of anything.
  9. I am not my mental illness. I’m a person who lives with mental illness.
  10. I can get better if I have the right resources and support.

 

One of the best ways we can end stigma is by breaking the silence about mental health issues. You or someone you know has been affected by mental illness, I guarantee it. Your talking about it could be the thing that gives someone else permission to speak up and get the help they need. So don’t remain silent, let’s talk about it!

If you want to learn more about mental illness and what you can do to help, check out http://www.Nami.org for more information.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

 

When it’s Hard to See the Why

Recently I’ve been dealing with a situation that is stressful and very frustrating for me. My expectations for what I thought was supposed to happen aren’t being met, and I feel as though my hands are tied– I can’t really do much to change what’s happening. Admittedly, I’m a control freak. Sometimes, I get into these types of situations because I have inappropriate expectations in an environment, or I’m being too rigid. But, I’m about 95% sure I’m being reasonable in this situation (my husband thinks so too, and he’s usually the first one to check me! 🙂 Anyway, I have all this frustration that I really can’t fix, so I decided to seek out the Serenity Prayer. I’ve been focusing on my prayer life anyway and I thought it would be a good practice for me to meditate on it for the week. Now, I can recite the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by heart. However, I recently realized there’s more to it! Here’s the whole thing:

Serenity Prayer
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

I read it a couple of times, and instantly felt myself calm. The scripture from Romans 8:28 came to my mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even when things don’t seem ok, they will be ok. Woo- Sah.

Then, the next day, I ran into this article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/no-everything-does-not-happen-reason. The author states that “No, everything doesn’t happen for a reason” and makes this argument about our insistence on using this language:

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the whys of all of the suffering, instead of just letting ourselves admit that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale.

In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of the greater plan that this suffering all fits into.

Even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.

Well, now I’m confused. Both of these things really do make sense to me. I want to believe that there is a purpose for my frustration and suffering, but I also want to feel justified in being angry, or upset, or saddened by what happens in my life. The therapist in me craves the validation of my human reactions to things, and I’ll admit that sometimes it seems our religious mindset does attempt to minimize or do away with our humanness. The author cited above goes on to say that while he doesn’t believe hard times are caused by God. He does believe there is something to be learned in the sacredness of suffering. I have to agree.

What I’m not ok with, is our using Romans 8:28 as a tool for shutting people up when they’re expressing frustration, or placating those who suffer rather than showing them our love and support. I also hope we can honestly admit at times, “I don’t know why this is happening. It doesn’t make sense. It feels unfair” and still believe in the omnipotence of God and our ability to withstand struggle. I haven’t found any scripture that says we aren’t allowed to feel sadness, anger, or frustration, even if those emotions are directed at God. If you don’t believe me, check out Psalms. Talk about honesty!

So, when I face these times, I’ll try to focus on how I can learn or grow, and something new I can learn about God. It won’t be easy, and I can’t even honestly say I look forward to the challenge. But, I do think it will be rewarding. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

What’s the Point of Church?

I ran across an Article recently on the “Spiritual Openness of Younger Unchurched” that basically challenges the notion that Christianity is dying in America. The article makes the argument that while church attendance is declining, young adults in particular are actually open to the idea of spirituality and religion, but seem to be resistant to the idea of church. The article provides these statistics from a Lifeway Research study:

The overwhelming majority believe the church is full of hypocrites (67% of young unchurched). A significant group, approximately 39%, believe their lifestyle wouldn’t be accepted at most Christian churches. Finally, about 90% of young unchurched think they can have a good relationship with God without the church.

I have to admit, I’ve heard plenty of people say something to the effect of “I don’t do church” and I would bet, it’s because of these things- feeling like church folk say one thing and do another, or feeling like they would be judged at churches. Still, there are others who feel that they can have a great relationship with God without needing to go to church. However, according to the study these same people were open to hearing about God, going to bible study, or joining a small group. So, it doesn’t seem like a resistance to God, maybe just a resistance to church. Though I’m not in the camp of folks who believe this, I can understand the sentiment. So, what does this mean? Do we not need church anymore?

I would say that yes, we do. But, it’s high time that we start taking some of the criticisms of the church critically. Why would people want to come to a place where they feel they will be judged by people who do (or have done) the same things? What’s the draw? For me, the draw is connection; not just to God (you can get God alone), but to others who you know share the same values and are along the same journey. But, just like any other organization with humans in it, church can get cliquish, complicated, political, etc. These are the things that can sometimes get in the way, especially for people who are new to church. I also think that we have a really limiting definition of church. My pastor preached a sermon last week about the importance of what we do outside the church walls- what we do at work, at the grocery store, and at the gas station is also a representation of the church. What if our behavior at the grocery store made people want to come to church?

I love my church and THE CHURCH and I see the benefits of it. I also understand why some people won’t step foot near a church. We all have our reasons. The part that is most disheartening is that there are people who are yearning for Christ, but can’t get what they need because we humans are in the way. There are so many people who need connection, home, family, support, and love. We have the opportunity to be just what people need, if we get out of the way. My hope is that church can be a place where everyone can get their questions answered, feel as though they are an important part of a community, and be spiritually nourished. I think a lot of the responsibility is on us to walk the talk, to be people who exemplify Christ and draw people to God just like moths to a flame. We should be that contagious! This extends not only to our conversations, but also to our social media presence, our demeanor at work, any time we are around others. It means that we can endeavor to be forgiving, loving, understanding, and kind. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even at the end of a long day. This idea is not new at all, but I believe many of us have lost our way. Here are some scriptures to remind us:

Matthew 5:14-16:  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

1 Peter 3:15:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect

John 13:35: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

So, let’s endeavor to be the kind of people that people will follow to church! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

The Power of Relationship

I recently came across an article describing a Baylor University study on the effects of prayer on mental health outcomes. They found that the extent to which people experience positive outcomes from prayer is related to their perception of their relationship with God. People who had a secure attachment  (my words, not theirs) with God were more likely to experience positive outcomes than those who didn’t. “Secure attachment” is a psychological term that describes a care giving relationship where one expects (counts on, believes in) support and protection from the other. This term is often used to describe parental relationships but can be used for other types of relationships at well. So, the bottom line was that people who didn’t believe God would be there in times of need, didn’t feel better when they prayed regularly. Well that makes perfect sense! How many of us pray about something, all the time working on a “plan B” because we don’t really trust that God will act in our situation. We take our burdens to the altar, and then pick them right back up after the “amen.”   I’m guilty of this too, so no accusation here. During these times, doubt and uncertainty (and maybe control issues!) get in the way of our faith walk.  This pattern causes us stress and distress and it doesn’t match God’s promises to us. Stress is the cause of so many of the mental and emotional challenges we face. As a believer, not trusting your relationship with God can lead to loneliness, hopelessness,  anxiety, and depression. None of us wants to feel that we are in it alone.

You know that best friend that you can tell anything to and you know will always be there for you? That’s the kind of relationship God desires with you- and guess what- it’s reciprocal! Imagine what would happen if you actually STOPPED stressing about the stuff you prayed about. Now that’s freedom! That is also the Power of Relationship. When you trust the promise of God’s protection and provision,  you are free to do what you’ve been called to do without the burden of worldly stressors. Here’s a reminder of what we’ve been promised:

Matthew 6:25- Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

Psalm 55:2- Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Proverbs 3:5-6- Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Hebrews 13:5b- God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

1 John 5:14-15- Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Here’s the bottom line- relationship is essential! We can’t truly live in the promises if we aren’t close to the One who makes them!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!