Entries in change (21)
My life has gotten a bit more complicated the last two months… maybe challenging would be a better word. In November I was asked to take on the preaching responsibilities for my church for the next six months and I accepted. I agreed knowing that I would be pressed in with a packed schedule and many more responsibilities. Stress would increase… I determined as I went into this season that I needed to have some more rigid boundaries to help me navigate my responsibilities. With the help of my wife, here’s what I came up with:
- I need to lessen my professional schedule appropriately. This has never been easy for me to do, but it is mandated by the need for speaking preparation.
- Maintain a healthy exercise regimen. It’s necessary for me to continue to take time to work out and allow my stress to be dealt with naturally.
- Accountability to an objective mentor that will ask hard questions and give me a 30,000 foot perspective.
- Implement a tweaking process that will allow adjustments to help me adjust to factors not accounted for.
- A Sabbath rest that is non-negotiable. This consists of a day where I do no work and enjoy my family and commune with God.
These boundaries might appear simplistic, but they have helped so far and I would commend them to you as a template that might aid you in your own challenging schedule. Here’s to becoming healthier in 2013!
This year, both sets of in-laws are visiting our home for the holidays. It will be an occasion for celebration and good cheer, unless the conversation turns to the recent national election. In that case, we'll be cleaning pumpkin pie off the walls.
Seasonal family gatherings may be a mixed bag for you. On one hand, you look forward to these reunions while, on the other, you dread their tensions. Here are some common frustrations:
- differences in the value of certain traditions
- pressures of gift-giving
- unresolved issues
- fear of how others judge you
- toxic family members (or ones you just don't like)
Combined with the physical exhaustion, financial strain, and seasonal depression that often accompany this time of year, it's no wonder that family events often cause more anxiety than anticipation. If this scenario is familiar to you, let me give you some hope. You have more control over these experiences than you may realize. Your family holidays will become more pleasurable if you follow these four steps:
Define your limits ahead of time. Write out all of the seasonal obligations you think you have: gifts to buy, food to prepare, services to provide, days to share, etc. Now consider how much of your time and money you can honestly spend and still remain content, healthy, and secure. If you're married, discuss this with your spouse. Once you've defined your limits, write them down and take control by determining to live within them.
Within your limits, focus on giving. Now that you've established some boundaries, go through the list of every family member you'll be with and consider ways you can make the family time good for them. Be a relationship Santa. Decide what gifts of word or deed you can give to each person. Make a list. And, yes, you can even give to the ones who have been naughty.
If you do this, you will be acting with intentional selflessness. If done sincerely, you will likely notice a significant shift in your attitude and experience pleasure in each act of giving.
Ask for help. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or tired, ask for help. Don't accept the role of saint or martyr. If nobody is available or willing to help, consider leaving some things undone. You may be spending a great deal of energy on tasks that really aren't that important. What good is insisting on the perfect decorations, meals, or other accommodations if your are left exhausted or resentful?
Change one thing. Established traditions may often include routines you do simply because they have always been done that way. They have become social habits. As you go through another holiday, watch for those practices that have become commonplace, even though they do not strengthen or satisfy the family. If you recognize any of these, pick at least one, write it out on your calendar, and determine to change it next year.
It is with many emotions that I sit down to write this blog. Ironically, none of them negative. I view life as a journey. A journey that when listened too, can lead us to new beginnings. That time for a new beginning has arrived for me. I grew up in the southwest and western part of the country, and many westerners believe that once you've lived in the west, it's in your blood. Whether that is true for everyone, or just for me, it is true. I have journeyed through the muck of my past and come to know myself through understanding the muck, somewhere along the line, in paying attention to self, I realized I become more alive in the mountains and beauty of the west than anywhere else. For many years I thought I was "stuck" in Orlando because I had just spent so many years working incredibly hard to build a private practice. In journeying to understand myself more fully I had to heed my own advice which is "you are only as stuck as you choose to be". I also began to give myself the freedom to ask myself, What do I want? and, Where do I want to live? Inevitably the answer came back to living in the west. With that, I began to see if it could become a reality. It could. It has.
I came across 2 quotes recently that help sum up the thoughts:
"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." -Howard Thurman
"To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing." –Anonymous
With a much deeper and greater understanding of myself and my soul, with a knowledge of what helps make me come alive, and with being at a place in my life that my fear of not risking is more crippling than the risk itself, and after being at Charis Counseling Center for 10 years (or something like that), I have decided to move my practice to the beautiful mountains of Colorado.
I take with me many great memories. Stories that will always be remembered and treasured. Tears shed from the soul that have been offered up to the Sacred Place. What an amazing privilege it has been! I also take a small little white poodle, the great keeper of secrets and stories. She will always remember....(especially when she is mad at me about moving her from the sunshine state of Florida to the snow capped mountains of Colorado).
Thank you to so many of you who have trusted me with your lives and your stories and will continue to do so. Thank you for letting me into those deeper places of your souls that were so hard to get too, and still you went. You have taught me so many things through the years, things I will take with me into the next phase of my journey that I expect to be more alive, real, authentic and deep because I can't imagine it any other way.
And thank you to the Charis Team!! I will leave it there for now, some words are meant to be private.
Thank you! Journey on! Travel well! Travel light!
I'm going to piggy-back off of Julia's recent article in which she wrote about "striving to be the best version of you." Reading it led me to think of the many first-time clients who, after pouring out their story of pain or longing, ask this question: Is change really possible? It's a question mixed with hope and doubt. We want to believe in change, but our efforts to find it too often end with us returning back to our familiar, undesirable patterns.
My answer to that question shouldn't be surprising. Yes, real change is possible. A counselor's work would be deeply discouraging if that wasn't true. However, I think there is a better question to ask. Why do some people change, while others don't?
It is not due to a lack of desire. People participate in therapy because they long for change. I have yet to meet a single new client who tells me, "I just wanted to spend a little time and money to talk to you about how content I am." (If there are any clients like that out there, my door is open to you!) But although every new client is looking for some kind of significant positive shift in their lives, not every client finds it. Even for those who are desperate for it, the desire for change does not guarantee its discovery.
A person's reason for change matters more than their want of it. In my experience, the most common motives are usually ineffective in sustaining long-term transformation. Let's take a look at two of these motivations and consider why they are unstable.
Unstable Foundation for Change #1: Experiencing a Better Circumstance
Most clients, when asked about why they are coming to counseling and what they hope to change, will describe with their discontent over something or someone in their lives. They want to know how to make things better. They hang their hope for happiness on changes such as: finding someone who loves them, getting a better job, fixing their spouse, fixing their relationship, making parents happy, adjusting a child's behavior, gaining the acceptance of others, or realizing success. They view the primary cause of their unhappiness as being something outside themselves and they want to know what can be done to assure a more desirable outcome.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of the goals mentioned above. At one time or another, I've wanted each of them myself. But they should never become a person's primary foundation for contentment.
Why not? Because, despite our best efforts, we are not ultimately in control of any of these. A great job can be eliminate by a bad economy. A satisfying relationship can be destroyed by selfishness or betrayal. A child can choose a path of rebellion or addiction. The way to success can suddenly be blocked by illness or accident. When what we want most is taken from us, any further work on change seems pointless. We either shift to some new goal, or become angry and depressed.
Unstable Foundation for Change #2: Eliminating Shame
Some people are motivated out of a sense of guilt or unworthiness. Their desire for change is driven by a feeling of "badness" about themselves that originates from past deeds or from unmet expectations such as: a past failure, past sins, deep secrets, the rejection of peers, a parent's abandonment, the displeasure of the church or God, a general sense of unworthiness, being assaulted or abused.
Guilt and shame play an important role in our lives. If properly processed, they can move us toward positive change. If not, they become constant burdens. But when we are primarily motivated by our need for relief, we miss the point. Two problems are likely to occur. First, we will be hyper-sensitive to anything that touches our shame, resulting in exaggerated negative reactions. Second, any relief we experience results in a "goal accomplished" response which inhibits further efforts to grow.
It's not enough to deal with the past; we have to know how to move toward a better future. Otherwise, we are likely to find ourselves falling back into familiar ruts. (In other words, the real work of grace is incomplete if it ends with forgiveness. Forgiveness is only a first step in the process of a transformed life.)
Stable Foundation for Change: Becoming a Better You
Individuals who experience a kind of change that continues through a lifetime are those who have developed a clear sense of the person they want to become. From a spiritual perspective, it is the person you were created and re-created to become. It is that unique you, unencumbered by brokenness, fully healthy and whole. The more clearly you can see that image of you and the more earnestly you desire to become that person, the more likely you are to move toward it, despite the hardships and disappointments in your life.
Consider the woman who desires to improve their relationship her husband. How would her foundation for change effect the outcome? Here are possible ways:
- If a better circumstance (an improved relationship) is her ultimate goal, then she will only invest in change as long as it seems reasonable to do so. It will be very difficult to remain dedicated to the process if her husband is not. His unwillingness to change leaves her stuck.
- If eliminating shame (due to her affair or his abuse, as examples) is her driving force, then she will be easliy knocked off course anytime she feels accused. And if she eventually gains some relief from the weight of her shame, she will likely be satisfied enough to ignore her underlying patterns that will eventually lead her back to discontent or despair.
- If becoming a healthier, whole woman is her motivation, then she will begin to clarify her vision of that person. She will search for insight into the thoughts and behaviors that keep pushing her in away from that vision. And when that vision becomes clear enough, her longing to become that woman can keep her on course even if her husband continues to disappoint her. Whether or not her circumstances change, she will become a woman who is more balanced, content, and capable of deeper intimacies.
This, by the way, is the full hope of the Gospel. It's not just about being forgiven (eliminating shame) or being cared for (better circumstances), but the promise that we are being made into something new.
Hospitals, emergencies, and unknowns…our health can be a great interruption in our lives and can take us away from the things that we desire to accomplish. There is a reality that our lives are finite and the time that we have needs to be stewarded well. Last week was a hospital week for me. I have a history of gastric bleeds and this one required hospitalization and a blood transfusion. To say I was sobered was an understatement. But these are the best teachable moments we have and here are some of the things I learned or was once again reminded of:
- Relationships are most important. Right before I went to the hospital, my wife asked me if I was afraid. I told her no I wasn’t, but I was sad in thinking that I might not see my grandchildren grow up and I would miss her and my kids.
- God speaks loudly through our pain. If ever there were a time to realize that I am not in control it’s when I’m ill. God is in control and I am better for acknowledging it and accommodating myself to where He is taking me.
- I need to take care of my body. I am an American (with German heritage!) and I push myself too hard and don’t care for my physical body as I should. Nothing like an IV in your arm to remind me that I need to pay more attention to my physical needs.
- I need to use my time well. Our lives here on earth are finite and I need to avail myself of the time allotted to me in such a way as to wring every drop of life out of every minute I live.
I could go on, but you get the gist of where I’m going. If you read this, it’s just a friendly reminder to stay focused on the things that matter: your relationship with God, your loved ones, and the tasks that God has privileged you to perform on earth. Everything else is fluff.