Tag Archives: worry

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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Hope in a Horrible World

The past few weeks I have felt really overwhelmed and frustrated by the horrible things happening in our world. It seems like every couple of days, there is a great tragedy that leaves is reeling, and utterly helpless. It’s not too difficult to find yourself spiraling into despair after watching the news. And, if you’re someone who has a predisposition toward anxiety and/or depression, times like these can be even more trying. Life events might seem to confirm your suspicions that the world is a terrible place, bad things happen all the time, or that things will never be ok. I understand, and I’ve been there too. But I also think it’s important for us to find ways to hold on to our hope in this scary world. So, here are some suggestions:

  1. Manage how much time you spend devouring bad news. One of our natural tendencies when bad things happen is to read/watch everything we can about it. We live in a culture where the mainstream media will remind us of a tragedy constantly for the several days after it happens, and our 24-hour way of being in the world makes it so we have access to horror at all times. Here’s a tip- just because you have access to it, doesn’t mean you should take it in. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break! Maybe that means skipping the news one day, or giving yourself a two hour break from Facebook; you are the best judge. I’ll add to this that we live in a world where are online conversations can become inhumane and demoralizing very quickly- some of us would do better to not try to have conversations about controversial topics through a faceless medium. The detachment of having an actual person there can lead people to be insensitive and downright cruel in their commentary. You can make a choice about whether conversations like these will be helpful or harmful to you.
  2. Hold on to things you know to be true. A helpful reminder during times like these is that while some things may be going poorly, all things aren’t. Spend some time reflecting on the good in your life- friends, family, job, whatever those things are for you. Remind yourself of things that are going well- for you and in the world. All is not lost. Remembering things that are good can help balance our sadness about the bad.
  3. Do something! Often, tragedies leave us feeling helpless and if there is nothing we can do. In many cases, this isn’t actually true. For instance, after a hate crime, you might engage in activities that help educate people about discrimination or racism. After a natural disaster, you might volunteer your time to help those who have been gravely affected by it. Maybe your action is simply to try to engage in meaningful conversation about what happened. Maybe you will seek to advocate about a related issue to your elected representative. Again, the choices is yours, but actions can help us to feel as though we are doing more than simply letting the world act on us and whip up around.
  4. Remember God’s Promises. This is not the obligatory <insert churchy phrase here.> In fact, I think some of those things can be more harmful than helpful. For more on this, check out this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/june/5-dumb-things-christians-must-stop-saying-when-evil-strikes.html. When I say remember God’s promises, what I mean is that it can be helpful to focus on God’s ability to move in the midst of and in spite of tragedy. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that awful events aren’t necessarily God reigning down wrath and fury. Sometimes, bad things are simply a bad person electing to do a bad thing. What I remind myself is, “I don’t know why this happened, but I trust that God is bigger than this mess”. Sometimes, I simply have to stop trying to understand, and focus on what is right in front of me. Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that what happened was a senseless act, and I may not ever understand WHY it happened, but trust God to help me grow through it. Even when I feel confused and frustrated, my ultimate goal is peace that will allow me to keep going. Remember these words:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

“And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

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.” Romans 8:28

It’s not easy. But we can get through it. 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!

Why Wait for Tommorrow?

Ever wondered why people procrastinate? Certainly some of us are more “experienced” at procrastinating than others. Maybe some of us are just not great at time management.Often, for chronic procrastinators, this process is about avoidance. The thing we need to do is so intimidating, frustrating, or maybe even boring, that these folks just can’t bring themselves to complete the task. They might find things to distract themselves, tell themselves the task isn’t important, or save it for the last minute with the rationalization that “I work better under pressure.” Sound familiar?

I recently came across a blog post which suggests that procrastination is actually likely to occur with two other phenomena: self doubt, and anxiety. So, people who exhibit a lack of confidence or are unsure of their ability, are likely to feel anxious about upcoming tasks or demands, particularly difficult ones. In turn, those folks might engage in procrastination as a way to avoid the negative feelings they have about possibly failing at an important task. This is a dangerous cycle. Procrastination is ultimately about difficulty with self-control. It’s about an inability to delay immediate gratification (or withstand immediate difficulty) in order to do something that in the end will work in our favor.

Now, let’s add the spiritual to the equation. How many of us experience self-doubt that is totally contrary to what God says about us? How many of us worry, in situations where we already have a promise of protection and provision? How many of us avoid doing something we might feel called or directed to do because we are unsure of our ability to be successful. You don’t have to admit it, I will. For many of us, procrastination isn’t just about paying bills late, or just barely making a deadline at work. Some of us procrastinate on big things, important things– God things. Maybe you’ve gotten explicit direction from God about something, but your human brain can’t make the situation work, so you save it for later. You might bargain with God for more time, clearer direction, or even make excuses. You might think to yourself:

– “I need some more confirmation.”

– “I’m not ready. That’s for someone else to do.”

– “I won’t go there because I don’t want to mess it up.”

These kinds of things happen when our human understanding is left to its own devices. I think of Jonah as the ultimate procrastinator. I mean, you have to be serious about avoiding to go get on a boat! However, even getting on a boat and getting swallowed by a great fish didn’t keep him from doing what he was supposed to. So, basically, all your procrastinating is delaying the inevitable. What if you faced your fears and went for it? What wait for tomorrow when you could be living in your calling today?

Here are some tips:

  • Acknowledge your fear (it’s real. it’s ok), but don’t let it control you. Your fear is human, but it is not God’s will for us to live in and make decisions based on fear. Remember: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1 Timothy 1:7).
  • Pass on the self-criticism. There is no requirement that you be a Saint in order to do work for the kingdom. Maybe that thing that you feel makes you unusable is the exact reason you’ve been given such a mission! (Remember Esther?)
  • Remember that you’re not in it alone. If God told you to do it, then the promise that God will be with you while you do it is understood!  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

It’s not easy to do it sometimes, but when you do, God gets the glory. Stop putting off what only you can do!

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!