Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 09/04/13

counseling

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) Christians come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, ages, marital status, sexual orientations, backgrounds, attitudes, personalities, dispositions, temperaments, views on the Bible and whether it is to be read literally or narratively,  beliefs about evangelism or predestination and on and on. Some Christians dress in a certain way because for them it works and makes them feel closer to God.  Some Christians let a vulgar word fly out of their mouth from time to time. Some Christians have a real problem with most churches for a variety of reasons but are crazy in love with God. Some Christians realize that they are not perfect and really comprehend Grace (yes, with a capital G) and other Christians have yet to fully receive grace (little g) so they are very punitive to other humans around them. I would love it if the Western Church could collectively allow for a variety of expressions of Christianity and stay true to the commandment to love one another.

2) Great quote I saw: ” Unless it’s mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it’s a waste of your time. There are too many mediocre things in life; love shouldn’t be one of them.”  With passion often comes conflict so healthy couples have to learn to work through the rough patches so they can enjoy those other passionate extraordinary times.

3) Like Lenny Kravitz sang “it ain’t over till it’s over.” Relationships take a lot of twists and turns so hang on until you consistently have no desire to hang on anymore. Leaving too soon and regretting it later is heartbreaking and a rough recovery; better to avoid it upfront.

4) Maintaining weight loss is really hard but it’s the litmus test of whether we have made real changes in our lives or merely temporary spurts of positive growth. We often subconsciously sabotage ourselves at certain weights and it’s very important to uncover the reason behind our behaviors. One friend shared that when she got to a certain size, she could hear her very critical and abusive mother shaming her for being too “sexy” when she was younger. My friend had to work through that memory before she could really gain control over her weight. Why do you sabotage yourself after some weight loss success?

5) “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” – Proverbs 27:6. We should all be so lucky to have a friend that is willing to give us a kick in the rear when we need it. Don’t be resentful when a trusted friend calls you out on something. He or she is probably right and we secretly know it. Just be careful who you listen to. There are many folks who like to throw out “words from the Lord” like raindrops in April. You know who has your back and who doesn’t though. It’s usually pretty obvious.

What’s on your list? 

Organic Faith – Part II

individual counseling

Thanks everyone for the positive feedback that I have received from the first Organic Faith post. I had not intended to have a Part Two but something popped up that made me think about another topic related, so here we go…

In the first Organic Faith post I was talking about how our relationship with God should be, in my opinion, a living organism that moves and stretches as we do in life. Sometimes that is going to be in an upward trajectory and other times we are headed to the pits. The ups and downs in life should show up in our faith as well or maybe we have set our faith on a shelf to collect dust and stay static in one state of suspension.

Like our relationship with God, our relationship with our community of faith (aka Church) will go through different stages of closeness and connectedness. I am very concerned about a growing trend I see, at least here in the bible belt, where people are unable to authentically share disapproval, disappointment or disillusionment about church leaders without being hit with a very strong backlash.

We have set up our church leaders to be beyond the reach of people not approving of everything they say or do. Whether it’s the Executive Teaching Pastor, the Pastor of Children’s Ministry or the Pastor of Parking, many have elevated these leaders to demigod status and I find it frightening. Heaven forbid we openly say that we think our pastors make mistakes and say annoying things sometimes. Watch out! A committee will be formed to discuss the wayward church member’s distasteful remarks against the saintly pastors of Perfect Church U.S.A. (ok, so I hope the sarcasm is showing through here. But you get my point). It is unfair to these leaders to expect more than what is humanly possible and making them mini-gods is grossly irresponsible.

Many times we have placed church leaders in a position that is beyond the reach of feedback and/or questioning from the average congregant sitting in the seats each week. That is concerning to me because when anyone reaches a status of being unquestioned, then the breeding ground is set for all sorts of potential evils to be perpetrated unchecked and unstopped. I don’t think many of us need reminders that church leaders sin just like the rest of us and should not be given a pass to have no one question them or their intentions.

Church leaders are human and are not perfect and when they say or do something that strikes us as odd, concerning or outright outlandish, we should have the freedom to acknowledge it without being branded in a negative light. We should be thinking people and listening intently when our church leaders are speaking and teaching. We should always be using our critical thinking skills and if something is said that we disagree with, so be it. We may even chose to share that we disagree. So be it again. Scary is the church culture that wants us checking our critical thinking at the door and figuratively putting duct tape over our mouths to keep any opposition silenced; even if that silencing is happening just from the disapproving remarks of fellow congregants.

Now I have to say that there is no reason to become Doug or Debbie Downer about everything that comes out of our church leader’s mouths. There will be some things that we agree with, disagree and really disagree with and that’s healthy.

One concern that some people have regarding sharing our unhappiness about some of our church leader’s actions is that it will turn off new believers or those seeking to find a church. The truth is that people outside of the church see our church family dysfunction way clearer then we do. By us acknowledging our church leaders strengths and their weaknesses, we are presenting a much more balanced view of the Christian life and involvement in a community of faith. Non-Christians see right through our glazed over, robotic voices and plastered smiles as we say “our church is perfect, you should come with me this week.” An authentic, “yeah, our pastor preaches about money a lot, we know, but there are good reasons and I’d be happy to share them with you sometime” is much more convincing to non-Christians than feeling like we are trying to sell them something that isn’t real: perfection.

So, if your church leaders frustrate you, say things you disagree with or seem to be taking the church in a direction you don’t like, it’s alright. Those are your thoughts and are entitled to them. If you feel the need to share them, do so. But above all, don’t feel guilty or allow others to be condemning because a thinking Christian is much more appealing to the world around us than a churchy robot.

Our times of frustration with our church leaders also does not mean we need to high-tail it out of one church for another. We would never advocate doing that in a relationship with another person, so the same goes with our church community.

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 08/28/13

counseling

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) If you watched the Video Music Awards (VMAs), were you expecting to see the cast of the Sound Of Music? No. Many things in our culture are bizarre, so let’s not complain when we voluntarily engage in watching something that will undoubtedly shock us and then act surprised when it does. (Note: if you have no idea what I am talking about, move to #2 and don’t worry about it. You didn’t miss anything of value).

2) How do we know what we were made to do in life? Our hearts hum and an excitement are both present while engaged in an activity or job. Pay attention to see where you find the most joy in any given month and you might be on track to finding your life purpose.

3) A strong connection in a relationship will drawn one another back; even if there are obstacles. A weaker connection leads to deadness in the relationship or a complete demise of the couplehood to nothingness.

4) Best quote I have read in a while: “it’s hard not to fall in love with someone when they see the mixed up parts of your soul. When they understand the darkest and dustiest corners of your mind – Author Unknown” If you have or have had someone like that in your life, you are among the rare lucky ones. If it’s current, value it above all other things.

5) It takes time to realize that we need to make changes in life. It takes time to implement a plan to make changes. It takes time to walk out that plan and it takes time to adjust when the changes do occur. Common element? Time. Don’t expect overnight differences. Sometimes just knowing where and when we want to make change is enough to get momentum going. At least get the boat pointed in the right direction to eventually reach the correct port.

What’s on your list? 

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 08/21/13

counseling

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) Avoiding conflict in relationships does nothing but allow a pile of grievances to build. If you are not comfortable with dealing with relational issues, you will need to get some new ideas so go read a book on the topic, see a counselor or talk to a friend who appears to have healthy relationships. Sweeping problems under the rug is an option but not a good one if you want the relationship to last and be enjoyable.

2) Having friends of various ages, of the same and different gender than ourselves is healthy because it allows us to have a variety of perspectives on life.

3) If we come from families that had less than stellar communication and relating skills, we must be willing to be the one who does life differently or we will unfortunately repeat what has been imprinted into us during our growing up years. We subconsciously return to what we know if don’t learn something new. It’s just the way it is.

4) I believe when the Bible says God hates divorce, it’s because of the heartache and intense emotional pain that a couple experiences as a marriage is unraveling; it is not disappointment in the people for “failing” as is preached by some pastors.

5) Starbucks’s Very Berry Hibiscus refresher tea is AMAZING and my new favorite drink; right behind Dunkin’s coffee of course.

What’s on your list? 

Organic Faith

individual counseling

As a counselor I have been given the honor of hearing the most private inner thoughts that humans can have and after years of meeting with different people, some distinct commonalities among us have emerged for me to witness.

One of the most closely guarded areas for people is how they truly feel about their relationship with God and faith in general. Many people are showing up each week to church services, volunteering in ministries and other outward expressions of religious belief but are inwardly struggling with significant doubts about a wide variety of points as they relate to their spirituality.

One of my most favorite types of counseling sessions is where someone can break through the guilt and/or embarrassment of admitting that they don’t feel close to God as maybe they once did. Why are these some of my favorite sessions? Because I am a huge fan of authenticity in life and faking religiousness is soul crushing to people. Now let me pause here and say that I know some people believe that the soul is bad and the spirit is good. I am over simplifying that a tich but you get the basic belief. I do not agree that the soul is evil and spirit is where God resides (but that may be a good blog post for another day).

When I say it is soul crushing to fake our way through living in a community of faith, I don’t mean that is a good thing. It’s not. It’s a heavy burden to carry when we don’t know what we believe regarding God and have no one to talk to about it.  Often times our religious friends, family and church leaders don’t really know what to say when someone is not authentically sure of what they believe anymore. Well, they may know what to say but often times what is said isn’t helpful and comes wrapped in a box of shame.

How does someone come to a place of doubts about their faith? I believe it’s actually really common but most “good Christians” don’t talk about their inner thoughts and just wrestle inwardly. There are a few folks who are lucky enough to have a trusted friend or family member who can handle real conversations about this topic and those people are very fortunate to have a good sounding board to bounce ideas off of; from what I have seen a lot of people do not have that though.

Our faith should be a living organism that ebbs and flows with the normal rhythms of life. There are days we will feel very connected to God as we believe Him to be and then other days when we doubt everything we felt the day before. That seems normal to me and common from what I have seen among people who range from hardly ever in church to people in full time ministry. The trouble is that often in groups of religious people, that natural organic dance of faith is looked upon as a negative thing. I just don’t see it that way. It seems normal and healthy that our connection with God would have its ups and downs; just as any couple relationship experiences.  If our faith hasn’t changed in many many years, maybe it isn’t really a living thing but rather just a dead statue on display that isn’t truly connected to us at all. Hmm. Something to ponder maybe.

I know this is a controversial subject and I hope I have expressed myself in the way I am intending too. I guess I can sum it up with this: to me it’s normal that our faith be a part of us that is so closely connected to who we are, that when we go through different stages in life, so goes our faith along with us for the journey. I hope that’s the case for people. Dead religious practices won’t really satisfy our deepest longings for connection to something greater than ourselves but maybe if we give ourselves the permission to let our faith grow and change, we might end up being better off than faking our way through this area of our lives.