Teachable Moments

Adulting is Hard: The Unexpected Cure of Self-Compassion

One of my favorite conversations I had with my daughter when she was in college was regarding the reality of adulthood. She and I were reminiscing about her childhood – the good old days.  After remembering days of sleeping in, an ignorance of how expensive life really is and a schedule that had a lot more wiggle room, she summed up her experience by saying, “Adulting is hard!”

Adulting Is A Time of Anxiety.  Even though my daughter’s days of college are over, as a college professor, I interact with college students on a regular basis and most of them would sympathize with the angst of adulting. For some, the angst grows into a disabling anxiety. Unsurprising, the majority of directors of university counseling centers report the number of college students with significant psychological problems is on the rise and the most commonly diagnosed mental health illness across colleges (and the US) is anxiety; a recent study showed over 40% of college students considered anxiety more of a problem than their relationships.

What causes this disabling anxiety? This is a tough, complicated question! There are many factors that contribute to a diagnosis of anxiety- biochemical, environmental, psychosocial, spiritual, cognitive – but there is one common theme that rises to the top over and over again.  Overly self-critical people are much more likely to suffer from anxiety than persons who have a more balanced assessment of themselves and handle their self-criticisms with self-compassion.

Anxious persons, including college students especially, demonstrate a significant lack of self-compassion.  This lack of compassion can result in obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, general anxiety disorder, and is even a possible precursor of PTSD, more so than those who have survived a war.  Not only do larger doses of self-criticism without self-compassion result in pathology, but it also can be a predictor of how well someone will respond to help. Self-compassion is key to overcoming problems, dealing with negative and erroneous thoughts, and is especially key to minimizing anxious feelings.  

What helps?  Self-compassion is an unfamiliar word to many.  To clarify its meaning, it is not really any different than compassion expressed to others.  Compassion (translated, “to suffer with”), whether for others or to ourselves involves:

  • an acknowledgment of suffering (admit when you are sad, hurt, stressed or have reached your limit)
  • an honest evaluation of pain which results in empathy (it matters that I feel emotional pain and I should extend kindness to anyone in pain (Gal. 5:22,23) even myself)
  • an understanding that all of us will fail at times (we are not super humans; we are merely human; we are saved by grace and kept by grace.  We don’t become perfect until we reach heaven. This is truth to live with daily.)

The myths about self-compassion produce unnecessary fears. To allay any fears, self-compassion does not promote self-love, worry, narcissism or pity parties.  Research clearly shows there is no cause for alarm here and that these fears are a myth; it may feel uncomfortable initially, but we need to look at what is helpful or right more than what “seems” godly.  But even as we understand what self-compassion is and is not, self-compassion is still typically an uncomfortable topic for some Christians.

Why is self-compassion so problematic for Christians?  I believe it is because we usually understand compassion exclusively in terms of our response to others more so than how we engage with ourselves.  Some may suggest that self-compassion be limited to secular psychology and it should be disregarded in biblical counseling as it is just another term for selfishness or our flesh; we are called to give compassion to others, but not to ourselves.

Why self-compassion should not be a problem for Christians. This type of thinking creates problems for believers as it is antithetical to Christian beliefs.  We are called to live consistently with scripture so we demonstrate what we believe in all areas of our lives.  Paul exhorts others to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) and Paul tells us we are to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4); notice this does not say disregard your life without a thought for yourself as you serve others.  Paul also encourages responsibility for self in Galatians 6:4,5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:11,12. It is incorrect for Christians to say compassion is meant for everyone else, but not for themselves.

Martin Luther’s self-compassion changed history.  Martin Luther believed that Satan’s attacks of condemnation against a believer’s soul were to be expected.  Our enemy attacks us relentlessly and would encourage our despair and hopelessness which we also heap on ourselves, then handle, in wrongful ways.  Martin’s self-condemnation without hope led to despair from which God in His good grace rescued him. Like Luther, as believers, we are wise to admit our suffering and take pity on ourselves as we embrace Christ as our Savior and Lord. Coming to salvation is the ultimate act of self-compassion.

Self-compassion…so what now?  If we begin our journey with an act of self-compassion, then why would we live the rest of our lives doing the opposite?  As we practice self-compassion, we then possess a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4;7); the anxieties of this world are put into eternal perspective and diminish. What a witness this is to the watching world! And especially to our young adults who are just beginning to get the world of “adulting” under control.

Dear Reader, remember to practice what you preach.  As you extend compassion to a needy world, don’t forget to extend it to yourself as well.  May the peace of God be yours in abundance.

With His grace and compassion, fondly yours – Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Luther Said What?

Consciously or not, we will come to imitate what we have learned.  This is especially true, I believe, when it comes to how we conduct our relationships, specifically marriage. We can see marriages and families lived out in front of us in first person today, but we can also glean from those who have gone before us.  Take for example, the marriage of Martin and Katie Luther who lived 5 centuries ago. Watching their marriage play out from today’s perspective enables us to learn some key biblical and pragmatic principles that work in today’s family as much as it did then.

Before we begin examining the Luther’s marriage, be warned.  You may be shocked to read what Martin said to and about Katie.  One thing I suggest we all take away is be careful what we say to and about our spouses.  It could be recorded throughout history. For example, when asked about Katie’s looks, Martin said Katie wasn’t much to look at.  I really wouldn’t want that to be my husband’s quote about me that lasts for 500+ years

Marriage was not always seen as a virtue of a Christian ministry leader.  Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer of the 1500s, was encouraged to take a wife as an example to other protesters in support of a gospel of grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone, according to scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.  In opposition to the religious tradition of the time in which singleness was venerated, Martin finally followed the call to be married and married a woman of strong character to whom he once said as she herself struggled with whom to marry, “You can ill afford to be fussy.”  Not the most romantic conversation, but they did indeed wed.

As for romance, Martin described his emotional relationship with Katie by saying, “I’m not madly in love, but I cherish her.”  Their passion was most seen in their commitment to one another as they talked and fought their way through figuring out how to live life together.  Luther spoke about their conflict by putting it into perspective; “Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in their 900 years together.”  All marriages must figure out romance and conflict, one may seem arbitrary and the other unavoidable, but both are key players in a successful marriage.  As Martin and Katie discovered, both need our attention and time to experience an enjoyable and effective relationship.

As Katie and Luther’s marriage progressed throughout the years, Luther reflected upon it: “Marriage is like the wine of Cana, the best is saved for last.”  Marriages that last the distance often figure out how to negotiate, compromise, serve and love more fully as they have learned to embrace self-denial and live together “as one.”  We can glean several key principles from the Luther’s marriage of 21 years that help us navigate toward “the best which is saved for last.”

  1.  Marriage is a good gift from God. Asceticism is to deny ourselves, to sacrifice ourselves harshly in order to attain a level of spiritual maturity.  It embraces the idea of “do not do” as a way to holiness. Marriage at the time of Luther for those called into ministry flew in the face of such an attitude.  Instead of celibacy, the call of the reformers was to embrace the goodness of marriage which Paul purports in 1 Corinthians 7:7, “I wish that all were as I myself am (single).  But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind (single) and one of another (married).” While the apostle Paul embraced the single life, he in no way espoused that singleness was the only choice for a godly person.  Both positions, married and singleness, are choices that are good and godly in their own right. To raise one over another is neither helpful nor Biblically informed.
  2.  Husbands and wives were made to complement one another. Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ ”  Men and women are different in many ways let alone that each person comes with their own unique personality. Marital competency, like cultural competency, requires embracing that which makes us similar as well as that which makes us unique.  And instead of having our unique attributes clash, we should strive to see how they complement one another. Our differences do not need to lead to bitterness, but a betterment of each person; we are better together than apart.

How did Martin and Katie better one another?  Martin’s stellar theological and biblical passion fed the flame of faith in Katie; Katie indeed was Martin’s biggest fan and most ardent scholar and delighted in learning from him.  Katie provided for Martin a home which nurtured his physical and emotional stability, both which he sorely need. This can be seen in the practical everyday matters that any married couple needs to navigate.  For example,

  • “Martin didn’t make his bed for a year.”  Beds were made of straw and if not tended to regularly, the straw would rot; such was the case for Martin. Katie entered the home and quickly corrected this situation as well as supplying her husband with a pillow (he never took the time to get one for himself).
  • “She ruled both her household and her husband, a situation which the latter accepted resignedly, since he was totally incapable of organizing the affairs of even the smallest household.  She brought order into his life and not always to his satisfaction.” While Martin did not always enjoy being organized, he thrived under the implementation of it. He enjoyed hot meals, bills being paid and medical care for himself and anyone in his household and home.  He did not always enjoy having his time usurped by necessary marital conversations or engagement in the mundane duties of the pastorate and yet, Martin Luther also said, “In domestic affairs I defer to Katie. Otherwise, I am led by the Holy Spirit.”
  • Katie was an ex-nun who was created to lead; she naturally stepped into situations of chaos and need and brought order and resolution.  Overseeing a home and making sure that it not only ran well, but was financially viable, was the “dream” job for Katie. Martin allowed her God-given talents to rise to the forefront of her life and encouraged her to thrive under the mantle of responsibility she wore.  She was known for her work and work ethic and serves as an inspiration for women to embrace industry with godliness.

3. Marriage takes work. In today’s world, obsessed with entertainment, work is something we work hard to get rid of or over with as quickly as possible.  If my “free” time is so prized that I see work as an inconvenience and not my duty or calling, then laziness is in danger of becoming a covert value of the home.  We can learn from the work that both Martin and Katie accomplished which we all now benefit from in our understanding of faith and family.

Facts of the Luther household:

  • 6 children, 6 nieces and nephews, 4 children from a friend who lost his wife in the plague.
  • A large number of guests were often found in the home including tutors for the 16 children as well as student borders; Martin gave nearly-daily lectures and spent countless hours teaching and writing.
  • Katie managed the farms, gardens, cattle, the livestock, and the family brewery.  The household was self-supporting by growing peas, beans, turnips, melons, and lettuce in the garden and grew 8 different fruits in the orchard.  She caught fish in the brook, and oversaw the taking care of 8 pigs, 5 cows, 9 calves, chickens, pigeons, geese, and a dog named Tolpel (translated, “idiot”).
  • The Luthers inherited another farm which Katie oversaw; she was also always looking to expand her real-estate ventures.

From marriage to being a good gift from God, to gender complementation to work both within and outside the home, we have a marvelous opportunity to reflect on what we learn from observing the Luther household.  We can start by asking ourselves these questions:

  • How might I have bought into the unfair and unnecessary dichotomy of holding one position as more valuable than the other – singleness vs. marriage?
  • What areas of responsibility and giftedness do I need to appreciate more in my spouse?
  • If work is inherently required in marriage, where do I struggle in my attitude and action when it comes to fulfilling my responsibilities to the family (where am I selfish with my time and efforts)?

Dear Reader, I am always convicted as I learn from those around me, especially the saints of old like Martin and Katie Luther.  What an opportunity for us to learn from watching how they navigated the waters of marital bliss. May we always be learners and never miss a teachable moment that can lead to our own sanctification for ourselves and home.

Learning with you!  Fondly, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Whatever…

I remember the first time my little boy looked at me and told me he was worried. He was four years old.  Four! What in the world did a little boy who was in his car seat on his way to the store with his Mom have to worry about?  He let me know that he was worried that we would get lost.. I don’t know how that idea popped into his head, but I asked him if getting lost would be a bad thing and he assured me, “Yes, Mommy, that would be very bad.”  I’m glad I immediately recognized this as a Teachable Moment.

In asking my little guy “why” getting lost would be so very bad, he let me know that getting lost was scary and no one should ever be lost.  My response to him was, “You are feeling worried; you believe that it is a bad thing to get lost. But honey, in our family, if we get lost, we call it an adventure.”  At the time, I didn’t realize how life changing that discussion was, not only for him, but also for me.

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another” (sayingimages.com). Stress happens to everyone, even our children. We have to help them navigate it. I have no other response to stress, but to tell myself and my children a different truth than the one we’re currently experiencing.  We change “lost” into “going on an adventure.”

Scripture says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8).  No matter the situation that brings stress to life, bring a whatever thought to counter it.

Whatever is the one word in scripture that reflects a totality of commitment to having what we believe transform our everyday experiences; it’s the best response to stress. Don’t run from the tension that results from whatever – instead, press into it with truth.

  • Mary, Jesus’ mother, told the workers at Cana to do “whatever” Jesus told them to do; they were to believe what Jesus said and then do it. Without hesitancy or question.  Wow – Mom – what a tense situation. But – voila – we have Jesus’ first miracle as the wedding planners pressed into their whatever.
  • Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.”  My entire day is filled with things to do from brushing my teeth to speaking on the radio.  Whatever it is, in private or in public, my whole Christ-absorbed heart should be fully engaged. In whatever I’m doing, I must try to live my life everyday with my heart on the line, which  brings a purpose and passion to my everyday existence.
  • A favorite “whatever” of min is found in Phil. 1:27. “Whatever” happens, I am always to conduct myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of God.  This all-in, all-the-time awareness that I represent my God who died for me before a watching world is stressful, for every believer I imagine.  But, I don’t want to miss one of my whatevers.  I want the world to see my God in me and to show my God how grateful I am for the gospel He has provided.

As I was driving my son to the store that fateful day many years ago, I am grateful that I remembered that whatever we do as a family, we are to do to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).  Whether we get lost or not, and with me as the driver let’s be honest, we could definitely get lost.  But when we admit our tension and respond to it with a whatever thought, we engage our hearts to live a life that shows radical obedience to Christ that is worthy of the gospel and brings glory to God.  Life becomes the adventure God intends for all of us. Tension does not draw us away from God; rather, it is our whatever moment that draws us back to Him.

Dear Reader, what will stress you out today?  Where do you hold tension? Whatever it is, choose a whatever thought (there are 173 verses in scripture that speak to whatever) and turn your tension into an adventure in which God meets you at every turn, whether you get lost along the way or not. Go do it – I know you can!

Blessings to your whatever moments.  I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for each of us and our families today.  

Fondly yours – always, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Danger: Cumulative Screen Time for Little Ones

I tried to avoid it; I really did.  I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to deal with it.  Yet, I knew that if I didn’t deal with it now I’d regret it for years to come. So I faced it. I engaged. I chose to enter into conflict….with my preschooler.

I remember the years in which trying to set rules and boundaries with my little ones was more challenging than any other challenge I ever tackled.  I really didn’t look forward to saying things like, “Bedtime is in 5 minutes”, or “No, you may not eat that bag of cookies”, let alone – “Stop painting the dog white with the house paint!” and my favorite, “You will not spoon feed your little brother a bag of powdered sugar and spill it all over the carpet!

While I was wrestling over house paint and powdered sugar (which, by the way, is impossible to get out of carpet after children and a 100-pound Golden Retriever walked all over it), today’s parent wrangles over a less-messy yet more potent problem. Cumulative screen time for children in early childhood (children under the age of 5) has potential harmful effects which negatively affect a child’s development.

In a recent study of 2,441 children*, too much screen time before the age of 2 affects the results of developmental testing in these same children when they are 3-years-old. Consistent with these findings, 3-year-olds who have experienced excessive screen time show decreased developmental outcomes at the age of 5.  Bottom line, research shows that young children should not engage in more than 1 hour of cumulative screen time in a day. So practically, the cartoon before the play date, the iPad in the grocery store, and the computer game after dinner all add up to cumulative screen time. When you add all the screen time together, you don’t want to exceed 60 minutes (1 hour) a day.

How difficult is it for parents to abide by these wise guidelines?  Extremely. Often when children are engaging with a device it provides them an instant gratification, and as such they are likely to have a strong pull toward playing or watching it again and again. Like us, children can easily get hooked on screen time.

How do parents deal with the inevitable conflict that will result if they set and enforce limits on their child’s screen time?

  • Conflict should not be avoided and should be handled with gentleness and patience.  Limiting screen time will be disappointing for the child and may result in conflict, but it is also an opportunity to engage in discussion, spend time together, and teach the qualities of patience and delayed gratification. Help the child identify their disappointment and give them the emotional and verbal skills needed to express their feelings constructively to find alternative activities.
  • Children learn best through movement; they are kinesthetic learners as much as visual ones. Playing with hands-on games, puzzles, and blocks engages their brain in ways a screen never could.  Parents and caregivers alike can work toward understanding the stages of cognitive development of a child and what it takes to maximize a child’s potential for cognitive functions (critical thinking, decision making, creative solutions, etc.) by playing with their children and providing toys that require small and large motor movement.
  • Effective social learning, which takes place when eye contact is made in person, cannot be replaced with screen time.  Parents are encouraged not to “underestimate the value of face-to-face time” in which children learn how to empathize, express emotion, read facial and other nonverbal clues, and learn vocal as well as verbal communication.  Quality time is any time that parents and children are paying attention, listening, talking, and engaging with one another. Every day moments matter!
  • Setting boundaries on screen time is best done early in the child’s development.  A habit of non-screen time is a habit best started when the child is young and kept consistently as they grow.  Not only will the child’s potential for development be maximized, a child is never too young to start a life-long pattern of self-discipline in regard to technology use.
  • Encourage children to explore and be curious. Screen time often makes problem-solving and entertainment too easily accessible. Challenging children to work to overcome boredom or solve their problems engages the child in critical thinking, delayed gratification, and innovative creativity.

Dear Reader, I have a hunch that research will continue to show us the dangers of cumulative screen time. How can we help parents realize the dangers of setting their child in front of the screen too often? Consider passing on this blog post to the parents of preschoolers you know; join them in thinking through what and when screen time could be used in their home. At the same time, this is a great opportunity for each of us to take a serious look at how much time we spend in front of a screen. We can’t influence the Next Generation if we are not self-aware of how we ourselves are using screens. We can also thoughtfully consider how much face-to-face time we may be inadvertently giving up by picking up our screens without thinking through what we are giving up by picking them up. How precious is the time we get to spend in each other’s company without the distraction of a screen!

Many blessings as you seek to uses screen time wisely for you and your children.  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth

**The research study referred to in this article is taken from Madigan, Sheri, et. al. “Associates between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test.” JAMA Pediatrics. Published online 28 Jan 19. JAMA Network, URL: jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2722666 **

 

Teachable Moments

Love and Laughter

Ask children what “love” is and you will end up laughing until you cry.  But that shouldn’t surprise us as love and laughter are good friends. Let’s see what some of our little people say about love:

  • Love is when my Mom helps me up after I’ve scraped my knee even though she’s telling me “get up and deal with it
  • How do you find love?  Get a girlfriend, kiss her, rule the world.
  • In one word describe love:  Puppies!  (Lots and lots of puppies!)
  • What is love (asked to a 4-year-old)?  His answer, “Does anyone really know?”
  • What is love (asked to a 6-year-old)?  Her answer, “If you don’t know, I wouldn’t be asking me.”
  • How do you know if you should marry someone you love?  One 7-year-old says, “They cook good and will answer the phone for you when someone calls that annoys you.”
  • What does love feel like? A tiny tot’s answer,  “It’s squishy inside and makes my Mom cry happy tears.
  • How do you know if someone loves you (asked to a 5-year-old)?  “They’ll do whatever I want for my whole life.”  (Keep dreamin’ kid!)

These answers make us smile and show that even love has a funny side.  It’s a good thing to be reminded that love can be whimsical, humorous and endearing. Yes, love is serious business, but it’s so serious we shouldn’t take it too seriously.  Taking love too seriously feels similarly to when I got a permanent as a Sophomore in High School and kept the perm rods and solution in for 10 minutes too long.  More was definitely not better – I ended up looking like a wet poodle after putting their paw in an electrical outlet – frazzled looking and definitely discouraged.

How do we keep the serious business of laughter in our love life?  The following 5 pieces of advice may be just the recipe for improving your love life, whether you are thinking romance or with your kids or in your friendships at work and church.

  • A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)   When you are feeling your worst or life is falling apart, look for joy, seek it out and don’t neglect it’s absence.  Make it a goal to have a moment of laughter every day, no matter your circumstances.
  • Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. (Prov. 14:13)  Laughter may only last for a moment, but that moment can change your day. Change your day, day by day, and you change your life. Don’t worry about the short shelf-life of laughter, for nothing lasts forever.  Better a moment of laughter than a full day without none.
  • Everyone’s sense of humor is different. Don’t expect to laugh at the same thing with your spouse, children or friends and try not to argue over what is funny or what is not.  Nothing kills humor like criticism. Embrace “humor diversity” and let all enjoy what they will. There is enough in life to quarrel about than what each of us finds funny.
  • Remember, humor may be temporary, but so are disagreements.  In a survey asking couples who have been married for more than 40 years what their secrets were to a lasting relationship, most said to avoid characterizing their relationships by either over-emphasizing the conflicts or under-emphasizing the fun.  Neither extreme is healthy and leads to a dramatic lifestyle which never works out well for anyone.
  • Why is something funny? Because it’s true – don’t deny it.  Nothing is more humorous than a sense of the ridiculous when we look at life in an honest way. One of my favorite memes explored the idea of how Christians tend to become possessive of where they sit in church, even if they have only sat there a few times. “If I’ve sat there, it’s my spot and if you sit in it, I will give you the death stare.” Why do I find this funny?  Because it is true! In 30 years of being a Pastor’s wife, I’ve seen the death stare happen over and over again many a Sunday morning.  Laughing at ourselves is good for us and can, if we let it, improve our relationships; it helps to laugh at ourselves and encourages our love for another to grow.
  • BONUS:  Always take advice from Mary Poppins, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” and “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game.”  Sugar and fun indeed make life better.

Dear Reader, as February begins, the month typically focused on “love,” may we take the subject of love seriously, but not too seriously. Let’s take time to enjoy the love God has for us through Christ and laugh at the ridiculous and seek the joy that awaits, no matter our daily circumstances. Did you laugh with your loved ones today, enjoying them and the moment? If not, it’s not too late -the day isn’t over yet!

Celebrating the love I have for each of you and so thankful we are thinking our way through life together.  

Fondly yours, with love and laughter, Elizabeth