Archive for the ‘healing’ Category

Life can get heavy — relationally and physically.

“Without further adieu, let’s give it up for some new elements, very heavy, recently discovered and added to the periodic table, numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 — nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson!“

These are — as you can see — mostly named after the places they were discovered, and furthermore and interestingly enough, they are superheavy and super-unstable. They decay almost instantly, like some relationships, and for now anyway, they have absolutely no value.

In the last few weeks, I’ve discovered some more heavy elements, in people’s reactions to me — weighty emotions, unstable relational stuff.

Someone expressed jealousy over my social circle, and then they got snarky with me for having so many friends. Somebody else wanted to team up on a project, then they didn’t, if they couldn’t run it. Somebody wanted me to give them money — after they told me all the crazy things that had just happened to them — but I think most of those things didn’t happen.

Niffle-naffled; I’m baffled. What do you do?

In each of these cases, there was stuff going on that didn’t have anything to do with me.

Funky relational stuff — what do we do with it? What do we do with it if it is rooted in the other person’s past and has absolutely nothing to do with us?

It happens. Unstable responses to what we say, decide and do — it happens. Sometimes we ourselves put our stuff on others. I’ve done this. I’ve made something someone else fault when the problem was really in me. Such things are part of the universal periodic table of emotional and relational heavy elements. We create problems for others that are our own; we try to solve issues that aren’t ours.

If we have been socialized to be overly polite, (many introverted or shy young people suffer from this) we may get triggered and apologize for stirring someone up when we didn’t. If we have been overly and dysfunctionally Christianized we may rush to the moral imperative “love your neighbor as yourself” and get busy loving, in other words owning a problem that isn’t ours.

Ah, so painful!

No dysfunctional, unnecessary apologizing, and no misguided Christianized enabling will help.

Owning other people’s stuff is not good for us or them, not good relationally and not good for maintaining healthy psyches.

People’s reactions, those deeply rooted in the issues that arise from their families of origin, or reactions deeply rooted in their previous hurts, these are not ours to adopt. They are unstable; they complicate our relationships unnecessarily; they decay relationships.

We can’t own what isn’t ours. We can’t fix what isn’t ours. We can be gentle with everyone. We can refuse to judge others; we can overlook their craziness, but we can’t take their issues into our souls. Even if we are therapists or pastors, we aren’t wise to try to own what belongs to someone else.

Those who are painfully triggered by their past can examine their emotions — we may be able to help them do that if they ask — and they may heal from them if they can own them, but as far as us taking responsibility for what isn’t ours — it does no good.

Without further adieu, let’s give it up for the discovery of emotional boundaries. Healthy barriers work really well in avoiding harm from other people’s super-heavy emotional elements!

This weekend one of my brother’s asked me an interesting question, “How do you think pain was handled in the family we grew up in?”

Fascinating!

After we threw this around for 45 minutes — my brother, his wife, my daughter, me — I can note a couple of things.

Siblings don’t grow up in the same family.

Each child has a unique experience of their family, based on the child’s own personality, based on what is going on in the family during the most vulnerable years, based on difference in how the parents relate to the children.

I had wonderful parents. They were loving, godly, present, good. But I didn’t always get what I needed when it came to processing pain. I needed more processing than I got. I needed for us to sit down and talk about the pain, the psychological pain, particularly how we experiencing it, what it was doing to us, how we felt about it. I think that I needed this because I am a very verbal processor and because I am sensitive to emotions. I am a thinker, but I am also a feeler.

When my mom got breast cancer, I was 15 or 16 years old. I remember sitting by her bed, in her bedroom, holding her hand, worrying about her — mom and I alone in a dark room. I never remember any helpful conversations about her cancer, with my dad, with her or with my brothers. My mom had a mastectomy. My dad worked, my brothers and I went to school, my mom recovered. We we’re a product of our times. We were workers, doers, not emotional processors, but even if we had wanted to talk, I would say that we didn’t even have the language we needed to talk about all this.

Only later in life did my mom tell me how emotionally painful the surgery was for her, how she felt horribly disfigured by it, how she suffered over that through the years. Only later in life did I realize how alone she was in that, and how alone I was during those years. My mom has always been a classy woman, always beautifully dressed, very conscious of her appearance, but she became a cancer survivor, a mastectomy survivor — with a hidden wound —  and her experience shaped my experience.

After finishing my undergrad, I fell in love with Linda, the woman I married, the love of my life. We started off talking, and we kept on talking. We talked, and talked and talked, about everything, always —  we still do. Talking is at the core of our relationship. We process life, it’s events, our emotions, our two daughter’s emotions with talk. Perhaps we over-process things, but talk, talk, talk — we go for the talking cure.

My kids aren’t perfect. They too didn’t get everything they needed from the family my wife and I created. Looking back, even with our penchant toward processing, some things in the family didn’t get adequately processed. At times, we simply didn’t know what the girls were feeling, or thinking or what they needed.

I love the family I grew up in. My parents are beautiful people. They absolutely did the best they could.  I love the family I created for myself. We too did the best we could. I come from good stock. Throughout my extended family, we have handled pain well enough to stay together, to have successful lives, to avoid addiction, to avoid separation. But I would say this, from my own, limited, needy perspective.

People need to talk.

More than we even know.

Talking helps.

Listening helps.

Talking and listening — this helps relieve pain.

I am a Christian, and I am a pastor, but I have unresolved psychological, emotional and spiritual issues.

“You think?”

I can get a little wacky sometimes and even often, just ask my wife and daughters.

This week I was triggered to recall a hurtful event from my past. As a result I became overly self-reflective. And so, being in complete control of my life, I overate, which seemed to help, until I got a stomach ache.

Then I watched Agent Carter on TV and fell asleep, but I had some scary dreams — which always happens to me when I get upset.

“Great, another dysfunctional pastor.”

Yep, are there any other kind,  but the good news is that I’m about as screwed up as the general population so we fit together nicely.

But if, if, if I just had more faith, I’d be okay, right?

Sometimes it has been taught in the church, or implied, that when we accepted Christ and are forgiven of our sins, and became new creatures in Christ, and begin to pray, and learn the Bible, all our problems will go away.

Accept Christ and poof, the past disappears with a spiritual whoosh — Jesus as David Copperfield.

The thing is though that the Bible doesn’t promise that. It doesn’t promise an immediate, instantaneous transformation of our persons.

Jesus taught that to change, a person must become a disciple, learn from a teacher, take up their cross daily, and choose to act out a new life.

Paul too endorsed this idea of change as a process when he told us in Philippians 2:12 to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling,” and to put off our old nature and put on Christ.

Lots of steps here.

Holiness is hard work.

Don’t misunderstand. A prayer asking God to save us, followed by baptism is a powerful, life-changing experience , but it isn’t the end of transformation.

Let’s get real. Let’s make friends with reality. We all have stuff to recover from. And it takes work.

Eating disorders, childhood trauma, prescription pain medication addiction, porn, drug or alcohol addictions, gambling, loss of family, shopping disorders, gossiping, complaining, selfishness — all that and more.

This is real. We live with this stuff.

An estimated additional 80 million people in this country are “risky substance users and abusers” and this includes the huge abuse of prescription meds.

We are the most medicated and self-medicated country in the world.

To help with this a massive recovery moment has developed in our country, and yet I have never heard much from the church about what the Bible says about recovery. Many Christians even put up their spiritual noses over the recovery moment.

But the Bible says to recover we need to have three conversations, and these  conversations are much in alignment with the recovery movement.

The first conversation we must have is with ourselves.

In John 8:32, Jesus said, “… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus said what?

Jesus said that to get well, I must admit my problems to myself.

Jesus is tapping into the 9th commandment, “Do not lie.” (Leviticus 19:11)

Truth-telling is so important in recovery.

Why?

Because lies keep us sick. All addiction is really just one lie after another.

To recover from anything, from life, we must face the truth, truth about what happened, how we feel, what we did, what we think, and what pain we are medicating.

We must have to begin with profound personal honesty.

12 step groups speak of making a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Therapists speak of being motivated to work on our issues. Pastors speak of confession.

We must face our pain — this is crucial to healthy change.

Step one of the 12 step program goes like this.

“I admit to myself that something is seriously wrong in my life. I have created messes in my life. Perhaps my whole life is a mess, or maybe just important parts are a mess. I admit this and I quit trying to play games with myself anymore.”

This is a good model of honesty, it’s Biblical, it’s a great start to a conversation with ourselves.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.”

We can begin to face our issues at any point with the tool of honesty.

Secondly, to recover we need a conversation with another person. This is what the Bible teaches.

James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be heal.”

We need other people to recover. This will often include doctors, therapists, pastors, sponsors, supportive family and friends.

When I am sad or broken in life, I always go to others for help.

I go to my people at H&M and Express Clothing, and sometimes Macy’s. These people help me buy things, which helps me.

I have also found people who help me at Bo Beau’s French Restaurant. They provide a particularly therapeutic pork chop there, with fresh, grazed peaches on top. It is a salutary pork chop, very healing.

I think of myself as a model of going to others for help.

I have also gone to see professional therapists, MFT’s, six different times in my life.

My six therapists were all great, well, all but one. I could have done a better job myself.

But then thinking like that is one of my problems.

Therapist have helped me discover the truth about myself. Not just that I am messed up, but that that I am strong, I have value, that after recovering, while recovering, I can do stuff. I can make a difference!

One of the really compelling reasons for seeking professional help is that there is a lot of new research discovering new approaches to therapy and healing.

New body-centered therapies do well in increasing our awareness of our bodies, their sensations, their emotions and this can be very helpful

Emotionally focused therapy has been very effective with couples. It works on reestablishing a lost emotional trust and bond.

Brain-based counseling is now coming out of research done by neuroscience. We now have scientific proof that the therapy process can actually physically change the brain.

Remember, Jesus said, “The truth will set us free.” Science is rediscovering that.

To be wise, we Christians need to embrace the truth, wherever we find it, and not act like we are above therapy or support groups and don’t need them.

We go to the doctor when we need to be treated for cancer; shouldn’t we go to therapists, support groups and pastors when we have cancer in our souls?

It is time for the healing arts to work together to mend broken people. This will not work perfectly, but the path to recovery is never without failure, setbacks, mess ups, it is life-long. But the questions is, in what direction are we moving?

Are we moving toward recovery? That means letting others help us.

Finally, to recover, we need to have, a conversation with God.

That’s what the Bible teaches. The 12 Step Program, which has it’s roots in the
Bible, puts it in a way many people can understand.

The step program teaches that we need a Higher Power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity. That is a good introductory way to put it. It may seem vague to some but it’s a good start.

This is an essential step for all of us because at the root of our addictions and dysfunctions is self-centeredness.

We can get so full of self, so addicted to self, that we can’t seem to get to God.

But I believe that we will not fully recover until we move from being problem-centered and self-centered to being God-centered.

Only turning to focus on something greater than ourselves will deeply cure us.

This something else is God.

And this where the church comes in. We know God. We know who he is. He is not vague. God is a savior. This is the truth.

God is at the core of the solution to saving us from our problems.

Because God sent his son, Jesus, God in human form, to identify with us, to be in our support group, and to take our sin from us, and to set us free.

Jesus did this by dying on the cross for us.

The Bible says, “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; (for) “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Once I got very sick. So sick my wife Linda had to take me to the doctor. She was so sweet. She entered into my pain. She held my hand. She rubbed my head. She literally entered into my healing.

I’ll always love her for that.

I’m not as good at this as her. When she gets sick, I go to work and call home to see what time diner will be. I am making sure I don’t catch her disease, because if both of us get sick …

Research shows that other people, touching us and hugging us floods our bodies with oxytocin, the “bonding hormone, and this makes us feel secure, lowers cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

Even just holding hands can reduce stress in our brains, including the part of our brains that registers pain.

Most people run from others pain. But when I was really sick, my wife Linda ran to my pain, held it, so to speak and in doing do helped take it away.

This is how it is with God. In Christ, God runs toward our pain.

Jesus came to earth to hug us. On the cross it is as if Jesus took our hands, and absorbed our sin and shame and pain into himself

On the cross he held hands with the whole crazy, sick, sin-addicted world said to all of us, “I am here with you, in you most yucky, messy self, I love you, I stand with you.”

On the cross, it is as if Jesus said, I enter into your addiction and pain, I will help take it from you, and I will never leave you even as you continue to struggle with it.

The Swedish proverbs says, “Shared joy is double joy, and shared sorrow is half sorrow.”

Christ came to sit with us in our sorrow! He is salvation from sin and shame.

So how do we recover?

It comes down to this.

To enter into a process of recovery, we must have three conversations —
one with ourselves, one with others, and a very important one — with God.

All of us creatures get worked up, exercised, frustrated — with life, with each other, with reality, with ourselves. Often it is because we have made a mistake, or others have, or we all think we have.

It’s not that much fun.

Take my cat Megan. She had a cat box faux pas last night. Her business went beyond the box. Afterwards she seemed to be a bit embarrassed. When I approached her, she took off running, then she came back to the problem, agitated. In the next few moments she seemed to be having a bit of an anxiety attack. She has lots of of past issues, needs psychotherapy, maybe not,  perhaps medication, I don’t know. I can identify. We mostly employ gentleness.

We cleaned up the problem, then I took her upstairs to the bathroom. It’s her safe place. She loves the upstairs bathroom. When she was a kitten, this is where we took her to recover after we found her sick and abandoned.

Last night, once in the  bathroom, I talked softly to her, as I always do.  She needed a bath, so I gave her a washing, some shampoo, some warm water, a bit of toe scrubbing. During the rinsing, for a moment or so, I think she thought I was going to drowned her. I didn’t.

She survived for the toweling, which went better than the washing, but then this is not a cat who hates a bath. She rather loves it, applied gently. She is familiar with bathing. — she often has a bath — and she especially enjoys getting dried. She purrs, she wheezes, she rolls over on her back. Afterward she struts the house, quite proud of her new look and feel.

Meagan likes the upstairs bathroom experience so much that sometimes when I even walk by the bathroom, she runs in hoping it is time to get washed, or a least brushed. Hydrotherapy —  for her it kind of substitutes nicely for psychotherapy. Me too.

Cats are kind of simple — like all of us.

What helps them, what helps us, when we have a problem, when we are traumatized, when we get anxious is rather basic.

What helps is the absence of judgment, the foregoing of shame and the abandonment of harshness. What helps is someone else’s care, a safe place, warmth, a loving voice, a happy solution,  a soft towel, a pat or two — these gentle things help.

What is the way back from trauma?

It’s is nicely accomplished, somehow, by getting back to what is gentle.

I asked someone recently why they had kept something from me that would have been best to just get out sooner than they eventually did. I assumed it was because they knew that what they were doing was harmful,  but wanted to keep doing it anyway.

That may have been a part  of the motive for the secrecy — the motive of desiring to continue the guilty pleasure — but it wasn’t the main reason.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I finally asked, straight up.

“I was ashamed,” they said.

I can identify. We all keep stuff to ourselves that would be shameful to tell, if nothing else, some of our thoughts. This is normal, protective, even sometimes appropriate.

It’s just that some things need to come out to be recovered from. Some things need the light of day to remove the fear and guilt and shame and anger that remains when they are kept closeted in the dark.

Sharing a shameful thing can be freeing, theraputic, healing, especially if someone who had power over us coerced us into keeping it a secret. By speaking shameful things, we can sometimes defeat them.  By speaking about wrong, we can rob it of some of its power over us.

“There,” we can say when we have said it. “I said it!” It’s out! I don’t have to contain it, house it, let it rot in me, alone, anymore!”

By getting secret stuff out — wrong stuff that really happened — we begin to take control again. By speaking the truth, by refusing to keep dirty-little required secrets, by saying what we did worng or what someone else did wrong, we expose mold to light; we expose disease to medicine, we cure harm. And even more, we recieve the support of those who understand, who have gone through a similar thing, who get us.

Yes, some people will get angry when others speak the truth, some will say it isn’t true even when it is, some will condemn an exposé as being unkind or inappropriate or as showing  unforgiveness or being vengeful. What should we make of that? Well, a vindictive “getting back” at people does sometimes happen, and that can be a harmful thing in itself, certaintly if the things said are not true, but we must be careful not to condemn victims for wanting justice.

When all is said and done on earth,  there will, I believe, have been too many dark secrets, not enough truth, and not enough exposure of abuse and harm. And when people who have done wrong are exposed, the shame  or embarrassment that they experience — they brought that on themselves. Being exposed as harmful is the natural consequence and social punishment for having been harmful.

For those who speak the secret shames others have forced them to keep in the dark — or tell things they have done and themselves have harmfully supressed — I approve of the honesty. Jesus himself advocated honesty saying the truth would set us free, and he predicted that hidden wrong will be exposed, and that what has been whispered in an ear will be shouted from a rooftop.

I applaud the bravery within openness, and I uphold and support everywhere the commitment to take back the parts of our lives that have been stolen from us.

Talking — it’s a shame cure.