Archive for the ‘difficulty’ Category

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

John 5:6

This sick man had endured his condition a long time, but he was full of excuses as to why he couldn’t get treatment. 

So Jesus said to him, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 

John 5:8

Jesus was spot on.

To get better, we often need to do something.

Many times it is simply the the next thing the doctor, therapist, friend or family member tells us to do.

We have to get up from somewhere we have been lying a long time. Or we have to pick up something that we haven’t picked up before, or we have to go do something we haven’t done before that we may not want to do. This is relevant to social, financial, relational and medical problems.

Recently, I’ve taken medicines I didn’t want to take, had medical procedures I didn’t want to have, trusted doctors and nurses I had never met before, found myself submitting to experiences I had never imagined possible.

It hasn’t been easy, risking, trusting, making  decisions about problems I still don’t fully understand. Paralysis tends to set in quickly, apathy, excuses, denial. “I won’t go now. Someone else is ahead of me. This probably won’t work.”

But we must, we must embrace the here and now, make friends with the present no matter how hard, advocate for ourselves, ask that we be helped. And we are always responsible to stay in the game, that is choose between options, to say “yes” or “no” because no one else can or should fully decide for us.

Lots of us want attention, friends, guides, helpers, cures.

We best speak up.

We best get up.

We probably have to do something.  

We probably have to stop making excuses for not getting help. 

We may need to pick up an old mat.

Theology and pain — there much to process here. Let’s put aside the questions of causality for the moment and consider our own reactions to pain. Let’s take a look at our side of it.

Paul, the great spiritual thinker, the consummate church founder, the exquisite theologian himself once wrote, and he wrote in the Bible, for God sake:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”

2 Corinthians 1:8

Everybody can be broken, including the great ones. Paul broke. The pressure was beyond his ability to bear. Paul was human. He was like the rest of us.

Pressure, physical pain, emotional pain or relational difficulty is always rough to take. It creates fear in us, sometimes it creates the fear that a time will come when we may think and feel: “I am broken and in pain beyond what I can endure. I can’t take it anymore.” We can all say or imagine saying that kind of thing if we arrive at a point where our soul is very eroded, where our spirit feels completely broken. I’ve been there several times in life. Most others too. But one of the promises of scripture is that God will save the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-20

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all;

he protects all his bones,

    not one of them will be broken.

What does that mean, “saves,” and “delivers”? It might mean many things? It could mean solutions, it could mean healing, or even mean strength to endure when there is no physical or emotional or relational healing. It might mean heaven. I would think it is case specific, but for all believers an ultimate saving and delivering will be heaven.

But what if we aren’t delivered in the here and now, at least not in the way we want? How are we to think about lasting hardship and pain? Well, we need to acknowledge that lasting pain is not necessarily ennobling. It doesn’t always get better or make everything eventually intrinsically better. Pain isn’t something we should minimize or deny the terribleness of. Paul didn’t; Paul despaired. Jesus didn’t minimize his pain. In great spiritual and psychological pain, Jesus wept.

But lately, I have noticed that my pain — at times — has clarified my mind, helping me to see what’s important, what’s not, helping me to the correct reading of others — adding empathy and understanding of their pain — and helping me to know what’s true. I have recently had opportunities to speak very truthfully and lovingly about some very complicated issues to some empowered people, and I found that they were able to accept what I said, the truth, in part because it came from a place hacked out in me by pain, a place of gentleness, tenderness and understanding of both my own pain and theirs.

In pain, we may — not always — get some clarity, some proximity to truth. Yes, suffering and broken-heartedness can sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions, and can cause us to be angry, pessimistic or negative or inpatient or unkind, but not always. What I am learning is that sometimes pain and difficulty refines us, makes us more mature, give us a perspective, may clarify what’s of value and what’s not and may give us fresh, helpful language to talk about old experiences and ideas.

Sometimes our pain helps us take the mash of life and ferment it, distill it, and produce some good, clear, strong stuff. Pain, like a still used to make strong whiskey, may drip best things out of the bottom of heat and loss.

And when it does, we must also say that this too may be from God. This is sometimes part of God’s saving and delivering. He saves and delivers us and our neighbors not from pain, but from untruth.

This week I fell — for a few days — into a negative mental loop. 

Around and around I go; where I stop — I don’t know!  It was an up-and-down and circle back around — my crazy mind. It was a rocking and rolling emotional session based on what someone else either had or had not done.  It was about expectations. 





What to do?

I didn’t know what to do — even with all my personal experience with my own brand of mental chaos, even with all my seasoned and supposed wisdoms and emotional acumens — I couldn’t figure it out. 

I have always found that I am — to myself — the most difficult puzzle that exists. So it is for all of us.

I did some research. 

University of Oxford Professor, Mark Williams, teaches that we can move away from negative mental loops by paying attention to our direct sensory experiences. When we focus on what we see, hear and smell — in the everyday salient and the “Oh, so very” beautiful right-now! — we leave little room for obsessive, negative intrusions.

The “Coming To Our Senses” approach has the ability to calm-water our roiling minds. It can ground us in immediate, beautiful and grateful realities.

This morning I put one of my current favorite songs on YouTube and watched and listen to a worship band worship. The simple gorgeous piano chords, those lovely lead voices, that backgrounded rhythm guitar — so orderly, so positively patterned, so soothing, so pointed toward God.  In the moment, using my eyes and ears to experience beauty, I forgot the week’s negativity and trauma.


I am better — coming-to-my senses better.

This morning, I also called my daughter. She was on a walk with her Australian Shepherd. She texted me a picture of the dog resting for a moment in some of the first spring flowers of the season. We went together on a fun, quick internet search of the name of the wild flower. It was the Scilla siberica, a beautiful ground flower with bright blue petals and lovely green, spear-shaped leaves. As we searched — and trade texted pictures — I was lost in the moment, lost in the little flower, lost in the mental curiosity for life I share with my daughter, and I was at peace with the world. 

I came to my senses! 

One more thing. 

In my morning’s research I also ran across the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel.

Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, offers what he calls, the “Name It To Tame It” remedy for negativity. The idea is that when unhelpful thought patterns and emotions overcome us, we can respond by naming the narratives we are creating and thus rob them of their power. 


So this morning, I named my current mental zoo. I called it my “The Expectation Loop.”  Sometime, I overly expect people to care for me. And sometimes I expect a competence from others that simply isn’t there. And sometimes I fall into fear and anxiety about what others expect back from me. Wow! The Unrealistic Expectation Loop — that’s my beautiful mess. 

And so to apply Dr. Siegel’s work, this morning I name my kind of crazy. This week I have been suffering from the “Crazy-Making Expectation Loop.”  To tame it, I name it, and I work to free myself of it. I think it through. 

If I don’t express my expectations, then I can’t expect others to meet them. If I don’t let others express their expectations of me, then I can’t fulfill them. If I have unrealistic expectations — perhaps based on my own past unmet needs — I must recognize those, and not let the past trigger my present when what is happening right now is not the same as what happened before. 

Thanks, psychiatrists, professors, you mind-experts. You help me, get sane, or more sane. 

I’m still a puzzle to myself, but with help, I am gradually beginning to understand myself,  better, and I am — just perhaps — coming to my senses. 

Today, I hammered to pieces a tile countertop. It was messy and loud. The hardest hammer blow was the first. To strike the gleaming white, uncracked tile seemed wrong, but it was a “Wham!” toward better. 

I’ve done this before, destroyed a kitchen, but it’s been awhile so I Googled how.  Seconds later, there it was, my exact white, tile counter on the screen and a guy knocking and prying it into oblivion.


Got it! 

You whack off the outside edge first — with a bucket below to catch the debris — then you shove a power bar underneath the supporting plywood, and you the pry it up  — plywood, mortar, tile, grout and all.  

What did we do before Youtube?

The mind is constantly seeking knowledge, the “how-to,” the “Why?” “ and the very best buy. We want to know the conveniency, the piquancy, the frequency and the decency.  Sometimes we need answer for, “What the heck?” 

A friend of mine just got diagnosed with acute leukemia. Tough! It’s rough! “Heck!”

Why does she have cancer,  and not me? “Hmmm,” even just thinking of this question, I detect a smidgeon of survivor’s guilt in me  — and some survivor’s gratitude.

I can figure out how to do some things — break stuff — but not how to fix some stuff, and not why some things happen to us, especially the things that cave  us in. Google has some answers. They don’t always satisfy.

Chance, choice, DNA, fate, karma, acts of God, poor diet, chemicals, providence, rats, flees, volcanoes — we all want explanations, something we can grab on to, something we can live with. But we don’t always get them. We can Google “countertop demolition” and we can Google “leukemia” and we can Google “housing market, “ but we still might not know why life comes to our door the way it does — or does not. 

We know; we don’t. We keep trying 

Maybe we shouldn’t. Some things don’t have  satisfactory answers. A child drowns. No explanation will do. Often a combination of answers come to mind, sometimes only anger comes to mind, sometimes all we have is blinding, numbing loss.

We are shattered tile. 

But what if having an answer doesn’t always matter. Not knowing where the hammer came from, admitting that we don’t really know — it’s at least honest. We don’t know every how or why or what, so what if we don’t pretend to. 

Why disrespect great suffering with goofy platitudes? Every demolition doesn’t make things better.

 Why demean complex problems with simplistic euphemisms?

 The brave often go on, move on, live on without answers. We don’t have to explain everything in order to live with it.  Perhaps this is the meaning of Proverbs 3:5-6.

Hammered, we may yet live well within a cracked and courageous quietness.

Disappointment, it’s an ointment — or it’s not.

I know. I’ve been disappointed once — well more than once.

I think other people have too, a few of them.

I saw a girl the other day who had on too much makeup. I happened to know she’s disappointed, and interestingly it was the makeup made me think of that. Her husband cheated on her a few years back, they divorced, she’s still looking for loyal love. She’s trying hard.

To not get what we want is one thing, to not get what we need another. It messes with us.  There are varying shades of this.

I had a friend who wanted to follow as successful military career with a career teaching history. I was excited for him. But shockingly he died of cancer in his late thirties even before he could start school.

I was unnerved by this. When I think of it it still flummoxes me; this dangerous force majeure, this ghastly, meaningless jape, this lovely dream gone lost —  for him, his beautiful young wife, his small children. Wow!

I think of parents who have lost a child. The unthinkable. They will never fully recover, always remember, always grieve, never be the same again.

Life fails us. In many ways. We don’t earn as much money as we thought we would. Our career isn’t as successful as we wanted it to be. Our signifiant other is not as supportive as we want her or him to be. Our children have difficulty getting established. The dinner we order at the restaurant is too salty. Our retirement accounts underperform. Our business burns down.

Living with reality, living with realities that aren’t what we wish — unfortunately that is normal, common, prevalent.

But here is the deal, or one of the deals. Disappointment can shape us, make us, not break us. Not everything goes well, that doesn’t mean we aren’t somewhat okay, aren’t moving ahead, aren’t blessed in some other way, haven’t had some of the successes we have indeed had.

Two thoughts.


Then sit with your feelings, hold your disappointment like you would a child, don’t deny that it hurts. It won’t kill you to just experience it, to feel it. It may do you good. If you feel it, you know what the rest of the human race feels, and you know what reality feels like.

Saying things like, “I don’t care,” or “It doesn’t matter,” aren’t very healthy or helpful. You do care or you wouldn’t be disappointed — and caring is a good thing. And really, what you wanted that didn’t happen may have mattered, a lot! Don’t shame yourself for feeling disappointed.

One of my therapist friends told me recently, “You get disappointed because you care so much, you hope for so much, you are such a visionary. It’s true. Great dreamers have great disappointments, but they also live with so much hope, so much expectancy, so much positivity, so much vision that does come true.

Secondly, to live effectively with disappointment — especially seeing that the researchers tells us we are wired for negativity — we may have to work at not letting the blues become our only reality.

When one thing is hard then it is good to notice that very often something else in our lives is easy. Right now my body is suffering various and sundry chronic pains. But my work — it’s going quite well.

And when we have loss, often we experience — even in the same time frame — some gains. In fact every loss may contain a hidden gain. The loss of one stage of life ushers in another, the loss of one thing leads to the next thing for us that wouldn’t have been possible without the loss of the first thing.

A painful family death may be followed by the making a good new friend. The loss of a great job may be followed by a job that is even better, or has a needed difference in it. What is dashed — it may even lead to the cash, of some variety. The loss of a career, or of our health, or of a loved one maybe be followed by the deepening of our souls.

Disappointment — it’s life, and it is an decidedly acceptable emotion. It’s okay to feel it, and to let it go, and also to keep moving toward a different, newly acceptable future.

I know.

You do too.

We tumble from one stage of life to another. A while back I tripped and fell on my face on the lawn. No damage. But I’m not referring to that kind of falling.

Recently, one of my brothers retired, because of cancer. He lost his career, his work friends, his staff, his vocational identity. I’m thinking of that.

He is tumbling.

I’m thinking about how we are all blown along by the maturing process, by our own developing — our progressing or our deteriorating — our bio-chronological tumbling, our head-over-heals bounding down the aging hill.

Me too, tumbling, through the ages.

In contrast to my brother and I, one of my daughters was recently accepted in a Phd program. But this is also a tumble, a roll, a bounce into a new level of professionalism, responsibility — and debt. She will choose to do this or not — she probably will — but looking back she will see that she didn’t, just choose. Her skills, her economic status, her parents modeling, the opportunities afford her by race, nationality and era — much of what she is experiencing lies far beyond her control.

I’m not saying we don’t choose some stuff. I’m just saying that we grow up, have opportunity — or don’t — and end up doing things –or not anymore — and it’s a bit of a mystery how and why it all goes down, as it does, so fast, so hard, so soft, to us, so uncontrolled.

My mom will soon go into assisted living in her retirement community. My mom is literally being tumbled by age and dementia into another reality. The move apart from my dad will be very difficult for her, and my dad. My father mused the other day, “How did we get here? It’s gone so fast.”

“How in the heck did we get here, all of us?”

What upheaval, what shifting tectonic plate, what smoking super volcano, what giant, crashing meteor, what mass extinction in the past, what new species lasting to the present created our story? What forces operating on us have rendered our racked, rifted, royal, rattled, ragged reality?

We are tumble weeds.

We live on and within the tumble dry cycle.

We uproot like trees in rain storms and tumble into the next street, the next house, the next new era, the next iteration of our maturity, our vivacity, our decline. And in the end, we will tumble, trip and fall into our graves.

I’m apprehending this: We choose less than we think.

And yet, in this, even in this reality turbulence, I find my North Star, my ever fixed point, my sheltered home and my final bed to rest in.

God is not missing. There are many forces operating, but God is present too, and he has our backs.

In Him, in powerful God, with the powerful name of Jesus the King — within his love and care and compassion — we live and move and have our tumbled, bumbled, humbled being.

My Infinity G37 stopped accelerating properly last week. I really like it to knock me back in the seat and roar from 0-60 in the low 5’s. It didn’t, and so it was a must-fix for me because very fast is stress therapy.

I took it to the Infinity dealer today. Fortunately it was still under warranty, so it was fixed for free, which involved reprograming the transmission. I waited for three hours — so it did cost me something — but on the plus side, they also fixed the motor mounts that were under a recall and tightened up a lose mirror, except that they couldn’t because it had been previous broken, and slapped back together in a make-shift fashion. Sounds like life. Sounds like me

Life lessens, leaks, lacks, loosens and putts and sputs and mirrors on imperfectly — except when it doesn’t — but it sometimes does with our cars and bodies.

Today my feet hurt. I should not have jumped off that scaffolding last week. Also my neck hurts. I should not have been hit from behind in a car accident a few years ago. Somebody wan’t paying attention. Yesterday my tooth may have stopped hurting— at least it is better — from the recent dental treatment.

And by the way, today, I got a cold.

But here is the amazing thing about this potentially gorgonizing mélange of imperfection. I have a car. I am mobile. I have a body. I have agency. I have eyes. I am sentient.

I have teeth. I can eat. I have feet; I can move. I have lungs and a nose — albeit a sore one. I can breathe.

It is such an incredible thing (a gorgeous, broken and somewhat fixed thing); it is such a good gift (a sick, sniffling, sensuous, torturous, italized sweetness) to have being, to have space and time, to have a brief, bright, barreling, biting 0-60 dash through the thin air of this amazing, spinning, sun-smacked, slap-dashed, broken and mashed, poxed and rashed blue planet, to live and move and stand and have our being within the joyful one, to lean over and into and beyond our imperfect lives and to be stunningly out of our minds, and wonderfully-terribly in, over our grace-filled, love-healed, God-milled heads.

I ran across a fascinating question lately regarding how I view my life, and perhaps how you view yours.

How has disruption shaped us, you and me, during the various stages of our lives?

When I was in my very formative years, my family experienced significant disruption.

We were in fact, living during this time as a dislocated family, transplanted from Los Angles, California in 1957, to rural Missouri for my dad’s work. He took a job overseeing a Christian campground in the Lake of the Ozarks. We moved when I was five.

From the start, and always, we were outsiders in the Midwest. We were Californians, people from somewhere else, and there was always a sense of not belonging. My parents tried to join a local church. They were denied membership because they had been baptized in another denomination. They refused to be re-baptized. We attended. We were not in the circle.

I lived in Missouri from first grade through high-school, and I adapted, I fit in, but early on, my mom hated the experience. She was removed from her new house in Torrance, California and plopped down in a series of cold, small camp cabins, raising three boys in a foreign culture on little money while my dad immersed himself in his work. In the first few cabins we lived in, we didn’t even have indoor bathrooms. We went outside, we tramped through the snow, to outhouses. It was grim.

My mom made it work. She was tough. She was a very attentive and affectionate mother to us three boys, but the dislocation from her California city life to a rural campground was a bitter pill for her to swallow. In some ways she never recovered, and the painful legacy of those years, the forced march in foreign territory, influenced her perspective for years afterwards.

Our early years in Missouri were quite stable, my parents eventually built a home there, but in 1962 my older brother was sent away by my parents to attend better schools in other parts of the country, and he was gone from our family for two and one-half years. My dad and mom thought the small, rural schools in our community wouldn’t provide a good enough education. Again, as with church, so with education — it wasn’t our community.

Then in the mid-to-late sixties things began to unravel. My dad developed a serious back issue. He was in significant pain. I remember him sleeping in a chair at night with a board across the arms to rest his head on. Finally, he could take it no more and he underwent surgery. As a result of this, he simply couldn’t do the physical work that was a part of his job, repairing and building up the campground. Through the late sixties, struggling with his changing physical ability, he went through — in his own words — a “mid-life crisis.” He would have to change jobs. During this time I can remember him working hard during the week and sleeping through the weekends. I know now that he had anxiety and depression, about money, and he suffered significant uncertainty about his future identity.

In 1965, my older brother came home, and he finished school in our community. He had become unbearably homesick. The education he had received at California and New York schools had been great, but homesickness did him in. He finished his junior and senior years in our local community schools. In 1968 he got married to an amazingly fun, intelligent and cool local girl and they had a baby. Getting out —it hadn’t worked for him.

Who were we? Where did we fit?

For years after this, I wondered why my parent didn’t send me away to school. School was my thing. It was where I thrived. For years, I thought that they preferred my older brother in this choice. Now I know they simply gave up, on getting us out. My plight would have been the same as my brother’s. I needed home too, I need a safe place, I needed my family.

Shortly after my brother married, we found out that my mom had cancer. This was an unsettling shock to us all. Would we lose her? What would happen if we did? She went through a psychologically and physically painful treatment process. She had a very painful surgery. I remember sitting by her bed in her dark bedroom, wondering if she would die. She didn’t, but it was only later in life that I learned from her how much mental pain she suffered over this in the many years that followed.

In the summer of 1969, I moved away from home to work, to earn money for college, and then in the fall I moved into a dorm in Springfield, Missouri and begin studying at the University there.

Finally, in 1970, my father could take it no more, and offered a job at a church in San Diego, he finally left his job at the campground and my dad, mom, and younger brother moved from the midwestern United States back to California, our home state. We went home. It was heartbreaking for my dad. He lost the job he loved the most. It was relief, a homecoming, a restoration, for my mom.

In early 1971, I followed them. They had gone home. I wanted to go too. Even though California was a foreign place to me, I too wanted out of the Midwest. I wanted more. I inherited that from my mom, and from my first year at college. I wanted a bigger world. And I wanted my family. I think most of all, I wanted my family. I got it, somewhat, in California, because eventually both my brothers and their families relocated to there.

What had happened to us? In relatively short time frame, from 1962 to 1971, we experienced major disruption — illness, stress, anxiety, failure, relocation. We experienced the unknown; we experienced life in extremis.

The social backdrop for all this played an important role too. In the United States, during these years, a counter-culture revolution took place. I lived through this and became a part of this, this time when long‐held values and norms of behavior broke down, particularly among my generation. We — the youth of the 1960’s and the 1970’s — became experimental with music, politics, philosophy, drugs, religion, politics and lifestyle. We became political activists. We took on the establishment. We became a driving force behind both civil rights and antiwar movements. We increased the power and expanded the voice of the young.

I was a part of this. In my first year in college, 1969-70, I wore a torn white protest arm band — with a blue dove on it. It was an antiwar statement. I wrote a freshman paper on the war-ravaged children of Vietnam. I immersed myself in the new radical protest music. I eventually, from 1975 to 1978, lived in a church commune, I almost completely abandoned a materialistic lifestyle, I pursued as much education as I could get and opened my mind to new ideas and beliefs. I became a teacher — of literature and history — at the high school and college levels.

Looking back now, I can see from the advantage of time, that in my family, and in my world, there was a huge amount of change and disruption, during some very crucial years of my life.

How did this affect me?

For years I have never processed this adequately, I haven’t looked closely at the disruption — the events, the chronology of these events, the spacing of these events — the elongation and compaction of my experience — the experiences of my other family members, the social movements of my time. These, collectively, affected me during my adolescence and early adult years. Until recently, I hadn’t taken into account, just how much disruption took place in our lives during those years. But lately, through some questions my wife and my brother have asked me, I have begun to put it together

So much change — during the formative years when I was developing my early sense of self — left me a bit on my own to try to figure out my life, my identity, my relationships and my core beliefs. There was a high dosage of instability. My parent’s stay in the San Diego area was short. Only two year after moving there, they moved on to the Los Angles area, leaving me alone again — in San Diego. I suffered. I was a dislocated person.

As a result of all this transition, I had several years of insecurity, of uncertainty, of lostness, of alienation and of loneliness. I lost social and relational confidence. One thing was missing, someone to talk to, to completely and honestly open up to, about my emotions, about our family losses, about my philosophical questions, about how to handle pain, about how to process life, about what to believe. I simply didn’t know — on my own— what to do with the changes in myself, in my family and in my world.

Certainly I got some help at the universities I attended. There I developed a better understanding of history, literature, psychology, sociology, science, philosophy and politics, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In these places of learning, I greatly expanded my knowledge and experience of a bigger world, and I explored new and exciting concepts with my teachers. I came to understand social change, how it is initiated and how it morphs into mainstream culture over time, and I morphed with it.

Certainly, I also processed life during this time with my family, with my father in particular, as I questioned Christianity — the narrow, legalistic Christianity I was brought up with in the midwest. My dad defended his faith with a relational, authentic and personal experience. This helped me. And I processed my faith more when I returned to church in the mid-seventies, to a different, more radical, open, emotional, inclusive church — one I discovered with the help of my father.

But what I didn’t get, and needed, during some of my most formative years, was someone who was able to draw out my feelings, to process my pain, to help me develop my emotional and relational IQ, to understand how the events in our family were effecting me and us, our family identity, our shared history.

It would have been helpful back then to have had someone — a therapist, a parent, a sibling, a friend, anyone — ask me, “How is your family processing the pain they are experiencing? How are you processing this pain? Is what you are doing, to cope, working for you? Is it healthy? What are you feeling about your mom’s cancer? What do you think your dad is going through right now in his career? What do you think your brothers are feeling? What losses are all of you experiencing?”

It would have been helpful to have someone say, about my loneliness, my feelings of uncertainty, “The feelings you are having are normal. You are feeling alone because you are more alone than when you were younger. You are uncertain because you are questioning the beliefs you were raised with. Your whole generation is questioning these beliefs. This is okay, this is normal. You will work it through. You are afraid because you fear you may lose your mom. You are more alone now because your father is in crisis. He is anxious and afraid he won’t find a new job. Your dad is hurting. Your mom is hurting. They are experiencing loss and dislocation. This is not your fault, but it is hard for them to be there for you right now.”

In transition, during seasons of disruption, we are often deprived of needed emotional resources. In times of trouble, emotive issues are often not the focus of the family. Experiencing disruption, most families do not have the awareness, the knowledge, the time or even the money to get the emotional and relational support they need, particularly in the past. During the late sixties and early seventies, my parents were barely able to manage their own emotions; they certainly didn’t know how to talk about these; they didn’t even have the language to do this, and understandably they weren’t equipped to help me process mine. They were experiencing depression, anxiety, fear and uncertainty. They didn’t know what to do.

But what could they do? How could they know what to do? They were caught in health issues beyond their control. They were swept along by life. They too were caught in a changing 
American culture. They were not equipped to process all they were experiencing. They came from parents who pretty much shut up and put up. From what I can tell from stories my parents have told me, my grand parents handled psychological pain by working more, and by talking less, by being stoic, and by being strong. This a good model for survival, its a good modeling of toughness in a tough world. It does not, however, lead to the self-understanding necessary for good emotional and relational health.

So what happened, how did my family come through this?

It’s fascinating how things turned out. We came through it pretty well. My parents stayed married — no easy feat, and retired well. My brothers and I all graduated from college. We found good spouses, had children, accumulated wealth, developed good friends, developed careers. And yet these events too were disruptions, these success, and with each one, we were again faced with change, transition, pain, process and recovery.

What to do?

What got me through it all — particularly on an emotional and personal level — was that eventually, I found places to talk, to process, to understand, to recover, to develop emotional understanding, authenticity and psychological congruency.

I found this at church, where my Christian community accepted me, valued me, and gave me places too develop and define.

And I found this in my wife — my very intelligent and very emotionally rich wife — and to her I give most of the credit for my recovery. She literally — over time — erased my loneliness and my relational awkwardness through her deep connection with me. Through her candor, her authenticity, her own emotional freedom, her willingness to be who she was and feel what she felt — I healed. She was much more open than anyone I grew up with. With her, no emotion was or is alien, taboo, hidden, unacceptable, inexpressible. She opened me back up, to process pain, to talk about emotions and thus to understand disruption and what it does to us.

And I also found great help in my therapists, the many counselors and doctors I have gone to through the years who have taught me how to take off the masks, how to process pain, how to identify my emotions, how to be congruent, how to reveal to people on the outside what is going on with me on the inside, how to talk about feelings, how to grieve and how to celebrate too.

Through talk therapy, through education — and through more disruption, for example, the learning and developmental disabilities of my oldest daughter, my own medical issues, my significant career change from teacher to pastor, my painful transition from pastor of one church to pastor of another — I have over a long period of time become more human, more accepting of differences, more understanding of emotions, less likely to be critical, more likely to ask questions, more able to accept differences, more able to understand the pain of others and my own too.

Disruption, pain, dislocation, transition — it’s normal, and we can learn from it, and we can get through it — and grow and mature in it — if we can understand it, and understand what it does to us and to the loved ones we carry along with us, and particularly if we can talk about it.

Increasingly I am making friends with reality, with disruption — with failure and success.

I am becoming more than ever, an advocate for emotional honesty, for personal openness, for relational authenticity, for psychological congruency, for the talking cure.

Is life hard?

Have we succeeded?

Have we been knocked for a loop?

Are we making a come back?

Let’s talk.

We have all had those moments, when someone said something to us and it just froze us, it was so off-the-freakin-charts insensitive.

I told someone one time that my daughter had epilepsy.

She look at me and responded with all sincerity.

“My Saint Bernard had epilepsy. He had a seizure one time and died of it.”

People say stuff. They aren’t thinking — clearly.

They tell us if we are single that one day we can hope to be married, if we lost a family member that they lost one too and they are better now. If our pet dies, well, we can get another one, if we have lost money “it is only money.”

If they offer to help with something, it is often on their terms, in a way that works for them, mostly advice — or veiled criticism.

A young single mom with young children told me recently that people have said to her, “You are a beautiful woman, you can easily get a man again.”

But would you want one?

It is just assumed that you would, because this is the patriarchal mindset that dominates everyday family-style clishmaclaver.

Helping often seems to be all about the helper, and the world view they are comfortable with.

People aren’t okay with our losses because it makes them insecure about their lives — that they could lose too — and so when they encounter our difficulties they want us to “get well,” to get back to social normal, for their sake, so they can continue basking in the blissful myth that all is well with the world — always or at least eventually.

It is not. God doesn’t fix everything, neither does money, nor does time, nor does “a man.”

What to do?

We can get cynical. We can get comical. We can get snarky. We can get quiet. All these work, and we will need this whole arsenal of response to survive — them, our saviors, our little helpers.

That being said, it occurs to me that no pleasure is greater than a comeback — that’s not later.

Someone I don’t know told me a while back that I was going to hell for not giving them money when they asked.

The next time I get that I think I’ll just agree with them. I have often thought the same thing myself. But I don’t think the main thing against me will be stinginess with users. God knows there is worse than that.

Of late I am of a mind to simply agree with those who think poorly of me. They don’t know the half of it. If we had time, I could give them a truck load of my failings, but it might just upset them more — poor things.

People are just full of judgment, and advice. When I was going through a particularly hard stretch I got this trite and untrue message from overly-Christianized people, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Yeah, it does. A lot happens because some people are jerks! People do bad stuff, and there are no good reasons lurking in the background behind all their mess making. God didn’t do it, the harmful stuff, a person did, and that isn’t easy to live with.

People want to nullify that, the legitimacy of hurt, taking responsibility for evil, and they want to powder away all negative responses. “Don’t get bitter,” they advise sagely.

“Bitter, of course we get bitter! And do you know what, I’m sure God is bitter too, in his own righteous way, because he didn’t want this stuff to happen to us,  and you would have a bitter taste in your mouth if this kind of thing happened to you!”

When we eat bitter fruit, we taste a bitter taste, and that isn’t a sin or a failure or a choice. It’s a bitter reality.

Now I’m getting worked up and so you can all see clearly,  “Wow, he’s a piece of work.”

Yup, you have no idea.

Little things make us sane — a delicious pastry with coffee, a flowering vine on a trellis, a hug, a cat on our lap, the sound of small round pebbles rolling in a wave on a beach.

Little things also drive us crazy — a wood splinter in our finger, dropping a plate in the kitchen, an unanswered text, a sarcastic comment or unwanted behavior by a friend or family member.

It’s funny how much little stuff can make or break social equanimity, especially in our close relationships.

Someone makes a comment. It has a slight edge to it — we flinch. “What did they mean?”

We make a mistake, suffer an omission, toss off a negative comment, fail to do what was asked.

“Will they like us anymore?”

“Are we still okay with them?”

They fail us, in these same ways, or so we think.

Are we still okay with them?

It comes down to this: self-management, the management of emotion, the management of response, the management of behavior,  the management of our hearts, the management of each of our precious relationships — to wisdom.

Responding to small irritations is always a decision, a judgment — just let it go, shed it, process it by yourself (“It doesn’t mean anything. It is an isolated incident.”), or the other route — bring it up, talk about it, find out what is really going on, work it through with them or with someone we trust, “Hey, what’s really going on here?”

There is no formula, but a few things might help.

We need to ground our emotions in reality. Often the problem, our anxiety, our irritation is in us, in our own pickiness, our own insecurity, our family of origin issues, our friendship of origin issues. Our emotion is rising out of our previous conflicts and tensions with others. If this is the case we must identify the real source of our emotion.

If the emotion is coming from a past harmful or toxic relationship, we must be careful not to let that emotion contaminate our new relationships. What ruined one friendship must not be allow to ruin another. Toxicity from one relationship doesn’t belong in another. It has no right, no place there. The people who have hurt us in the past, how we responded, does not belong in our new, healthy relationships. We must bar the door.

But if the current irritation is the result of a persistent abrasive behavior that currently exists in us, or in our current friends, in or colleagues and is beginning to build up, to cause resentment, to fester, then we must bring it up, to the surface, with ourself, with others, and apply the talking cure to heal it. If someone is letting us down, failing us, hurting us repeatedly, we must be brave and bring this up to them.

This helps, this kind of analysis. We do well when we ask the question: “Where are these feelings coming from?” And, “What is reality here?”

We must identify relational and emotional reality, ground our emotions and our responses in reality, and proceed from there.

The proper handling of little things, our emotions, our specific behaviors, other’s emotions and behaviors, this is essential to maintaining mental health and good relationships.

Get this right, and we will remain sane, and connected — kind of, the best we can, okay for now.

I’m good with okay for now.