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

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

Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

Learn What We Already Know

I remember as a little girl getting ready for “the event.” We circled it on our calendars, canceled any other activities, made bowls of popcorn and got our pajamas on early.  Every American family basically did these same things. No child balked at eating their vegetables, siblings were on their best behavior and homework was done immediately after school, as no child would dare risk being punished and missing out. Am I talking about Christmas? Halloween? Maybe putting teeth under our pillows for the tooth fairy?  Absolutely not – it was the annual broadcast of the renowned movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Part of the movie magic of the Wizard of Oz is captured when Dorothy’s world goes from black and white to spectacular technicolor once Dorothy lands in Oz, stopped the Wicked Witch no less, and she steps out into a fantastical new world filled with over-sized flowers and under-sized people.  Every time I watched it as a little girl, I was amazed and awed at how radically her life changed in a moment.

Even at a young age, I understood through the visual feast of this movie that Dorothy didn’t learn anything new in her journey on the yellow brick road.  No, the point of Oz was for Dorothy to really know what she already knew.  It wasn’t enough that she was told that her home was where she belonged; she had to live out her fears, face her challenges and embrace new relationships in order to get to her teachable moment in which she learned what she already knew, “there’s no place like home”.

We are all like Dorothy to some degree.  We can say what we believe, but until we work out that truth through life, we are only living a Sepia toned existence. It would be apt to say, until I live out my faith, I really don’t know what I truly believe.

Let me give you a “Dorothy” example from my life.  I had learned from childhood on that prayer was a key Christian discipline.  I studied prayer, I valued prayer and I prayed.  I thought I knew what prayer was.  UNTIL, I entered the teenage years of parenting.  In one of those crucial moments when after having tried everything to get across to my adolescent what needed to change in their attitude, I finally gave up.  I threw my hands in the air and said adamantly, “That’s it!  I am done.  I have tried everything to get you to see what is wrong.  Nothing has worked.  So just, go to your room; while you’re there, pray for God to help you and don’t come down until you’ve met with Him.  While you do that, I’m going to pray that God opens your eyes.”  I angrily turned around and walked away as my teen headed to their room.

I prayed and I cleaned.  And I cleaned and I prayed – for 3 hours.  Just as I was finishing scrubbing the kitchen floor, I heard footsteps coming downstairs.  Having been in concerted prayer, I went much more peacefully toward this next conversation.  When they turned the corner, they were crying and with heartfelt repentance, told me where they had been wrong and sought my forgiveness.  In response, I burst into tears, immediately hugged them and declared all was forgiven.

In this case, there was indeed a happy ending.  However, more than having the problem solved, I learned – I mean, I really learned – about prayer for I had lived it as I had never lived it before.  That was my “Dorothy” teachable moment about prayer and better yet, I have never forgotten it.

Moving from a black and white world of faith to one of living color isn’t easy, but it’s an adventure none of us should miss.  Dear Reader, where is your Oz and are you ready to embrace your inner “Dorothy”?  Until next time, may you be brave and seize your teachable moments by learning what you already know!

Blessings to you always, Elizabeth

Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

I want MUCH MORE for Christmas

I went to a major retailer in the area to pick up some milk the day before Thanksgiving.  As I made a beeline for the dairy department, I noticed a group of women who walked around in circles occasionally talking to themselves or one another…I couldn’t help but wonder if they were practicing a new dance, if they only turned left when they walked, or if they were planning a mission impossible. I covertly stepped into an adjoining aisle to stake out the situation. After just a couple minutes I knew what they were doing. And while I thought what they were doing might actually be helpful, I confess I also thought they were bordering on the obsessive. They were planning their strategy for what they would do at the beginning of Black Friday shopping. They were planning the hunt to make sure they bagged their retail prey the next day. They knew they would be up against fierce opposition and they were going to make sure they were in the best position possible to bring home the prize.

I will confess I love retail therapy and I can do it as well as the next person. But I have never seen so much time and energy going into buying a thermal sweater. Boots, handbags, Christmas pajamas, and new Bluetooth headphones were obviously on their lists as I tracked their strategy meeting throughout the store. I came to the store for milk and left with an appreciation for how people fill their time during the holidays.

This made me reflect that I might not be so different from them.  What random, unique, seemingly-unavoidable activities suck the time and energy out of my calendar and then, out of me?  We all know that during the busyness of the Christmas season, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of travel, volunteering at the food pantry or ringing a bell for those in need,  and worrying about which presents to buy for family members. For others of us, finances are tight and we strain ourselves the extra amount to make ends meet; family relationships are fractured and we have to navigate difficult choices. While I love cooking the turkey and making the cookies, the planning, shopping, serving and clean-up can sometimes feel like I’m crumbling just like the cookie I took out of the oven too early.  The season brings much joy but much stress at the same time. Let’s be honest, the song I’m really singing on Sunday morning could sound more like this:

Joy and stress to the World, yes, my Lord has come. Let earth receive her King (and the gift I just bought you). The glory of Buying the right Gift. Let Heaven and Nature Sing….while I try to get everything done and figured out.

Make up your own hymn with contrasting realities – excitement and worry. Good memories and Nightmares. Christmas brings such a multifaceted array of emotions that sometimes it’s hard to navigate through these emotions and focus on the meaning of the season.

Pause with me and reflect.  Isn’t it true that we can SAY “I put Jesus first” but how often have I spoken platitudes to that effect all day long, but what’s really going on internally is much more raw and disappointing than that.  I am thankful for my precious strategic shoppers who recently reminded me that there is so much more for me to fix my mind and heart upon during Christmas time than the worry and stress of the current calendar and circumstances.

Oswald Chambers in “My Utmost for His Highest” states nicely that “we are never free from the recurring tides of the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things entering in.” Like a flood these distractions will always seek to pull us away from time with our Savior. We shouldn’t be surprised that Christmas comes with life-distractions that will sneak in from every angle during the season to take our hearts and minds off of Christ. We have the greatest opportunity to focus on our Savior all the more during this season. I just need to grab onto this opportunity with both hands and I can’t do that without acknowledging the problem and then reminding myself of the amazing solution that awaits my attention.  My current problem has a remedy that was spoken over 2000 years ago.

Jesus teaches us, If God so beautifully clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:30-33)

But now – I suggest to you this same passage seen through the eyes of the author of The Message,  “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Dear reader, when the much more of the season’s busyness tries to push out the much more of our Savior, let’s aim to praise Him and remember Him amidst our circumstances. Will you join me in striving to seek first His Kingdom, push away the worry and the stress, and dwell on the much more that He only can give?  Blessings to you dear Reader – I wish for you Much More of Jesus during this blessed season.  

Always His and yours – Elizabeth

Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

A Christian Guide to Technology Part 1

I’m officially terrified.  Not the normal-everyday type of terror as when I hit every single red light on the way to the train station and I’m afraid I might not make the train I need to get to arrive at work on time.  Not the “’oh no – I just ate another plate of Christmas cookies and I haven’t exercised in over a week” despair. And not the, “I haven’t gotten 7 -8 hours sleep since…..I’m too tired to remember” anxiety.  Nope – this is the “what is the world coming to; I think the world is getting exponentially worse moment-by-moment” type of terror.

Here’s why:

  • The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK asked 14-24 year-olds how social media platforms impacted their health and wellbeing.  Results showed all forms led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness.
  • Teens ages 13- 17 send an average of 3364 texts per month, while 33% state they send more than 100 texts a day.
  • 11 hours per day, 11-18 year olds spend over 11 hours per day exposed to electronic media
  • Recent research is investigating the negative effects of cumulative screen time (phone, computer, ipad, TV, etc. minutes combined) which shows children and teens’ relational and emotional development is leading to more negative behaviors, depression and an overall decrease in the satisfaction of life

Bottom line, technological use is eroding the happiness, critical thinking, relational connection and compassion in a large majority of the next generation.  And none of the research indicates it is going to move in a positive direction; instead, experts believe it will only get worse and we have yet to understand the full negative ramifications.

What do we do in light of such a discouraging forecast?  We do what we always do; we engage in “God-first” thinking.  We remind ourselves of the mandate that God gives each of His people; we are to invest in relationships with one another that engage in heart and Kingdom matters.  Too often technology is a distraction from relational connection as it engages the gratification centers of our brain, pursues bullet point facts or information and allows us to insulate ourselves away from hard conversations, which lead to effective conflict resolution.  Relationships require BOTH quality and quantity of time and our time is compromised when I invest in a relationship with my devices more than I do with those around me.

Intimacy is the characterizing attribute we are working to cultivate between one another.  Intimacy grows in a relationship when we disclose vulnerably to one another in safe and trusted ways; intimacy grows when who I am is valued as a person no matter my flaws.  We value one another with honor when we take the time to engage in non-distracted conversation, listening and encouraging one another in consistent and dependable ways. Just like God does with us.

God is always with me; God is always listening to me; God is unchanging in His devotion, attention and care for me.  To grow as a believer is to be conformed to the image of God in Christ and to do that, I need to choose intentionally to invest my attention and effort into my relationship with God, which will then flow into my relationships with those around me.

Practically, pursue intimacy with God and others by considering the following:

  1. Remember, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.  All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (1 Cor. 10:23) Choose to use technology only in ways that profit and edify your soul and the souls of others. This requires self-reflection and self-assessment and won’t look the same for everyone; think edification over legalism.
  2.  Media can be missional when it advances Kingdom matters, which can include a right understanding of man’s relationship with God, wisdom to flourish in the God-given lives God has given us and advance the world’s understanding of God and His gospel message.  Choose wisely the words you post in social media; if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face and it is not first loving, don’t say it.
  3.  God has given you a set amount of moments in this world; consider how you will be accountable for all the time you spend on electronic media and make sure you teach your children to do the same.
  4. New is not always better; consider giving more money to your local church, missions or a worthy organization that is teaching God’s word rightly rather than buying the newest technology.

Reader, the key to making sure we are using our technology wisely is both an internal and external matter.  We start with the internal by prayerfully reflecting on our choices, habits and needs. We then have our internal convictions and priorities result in careful consideration of how and when I use technology.  We take responsibility that if I am to impact the next generation to thirst after God, then I must first live a life myself that is obviously displaying a thirst for God myself.

Psalm 63:1, “You, god, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

Until next we meet here in Teachable Moments, may the lover of our souls Himself give each of us discernment in how we pursue His kingdom in a digital world.