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Posts tagged ‘Fear’

Where Is God When Things Keep Getting Worse?

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Life can be achingly difficult.

It has been for me. Many times, I’ve thought life was finally getting better, only to find out I was wrong. It was just the calm before the next devastating storm. Nothing was better. In fact, life became even harder.

I grew afraid to even hope again. Because hoping just brought more pain. I wondered where God was when things kept getting worse.

I buried my precious son when he was two months old because the doctors made a mistake. Six years later, I was diagnosed with postpolio syndrome, a debilitating condition that will eventually require that I have full-time care, unable to do the simplest things for myself. And then six years after my horrifying diagnosis, my husband left our family, moved away, and later filed for divorce.

Those years are still a blur to me. Just as I was coming to terms with one calamity, the next one came raging through. I wondered how I could handle yet another blow.

Afraid and Alone

That’s why I’m drawn to the story of Joseph. He knew what crushing disappointment felt like. He grew up as the favorite son of his father, but was later betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave in Egypt. Soon he rose to a position of trust in Potiphar’s house until his master’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape because he refused to sleep with her. Joseph was thrown into prison where he remained for years, waiting and wondering if he would ever be delivered.

Joseph must have felt afraid and alone, uncertain of what the future might hold. I definitely did. So, how did Joseph make it through those years and emerge with a stronger faith? Why did he not give up, determined never to hope again?

Joseph suffered well amidst staggering disappointment because he knew God was for him and with him in the darkest places.

God with Us

Four times in Genesis 39, both in Potiphar’s house and in prison, we read that the Lord was with Joseph (Genesis 39:2–32123). While God later delivered Joseph in an astonishing way, the beauty of Joseph’s story to me is not in the miraculous deliverance, but in God’s constant and faithful care of Joseph when his life was bleak.

God never left Joseph’s side. Joseph knew that God was with him, and he was consistently blessed with God’s presence and favor, even when his prayers for deliverance went unanswered for years.

I remember years of crying out to God, thinking my faith would get back on track when life got back to normal. But as the pain grew more intense, I realized I needed to find God in the present, and not wait for my circumstances to improve. God wanted me to find him sufficient in the midst of trouble rather than just demanding that he deliver me from it.

And I found God more than sufficient as I met with him daily in Scripture and in prayer. His word became exceedingly precious to me. It brought light to my darkness. It became life to me.

How Does My Story End?

It was in his word that I learned to trust that he loved me (1 John 4:10). That he would give me what I needed every day (Lamentations 3:22–23). Just like Joseph, I learned that God is always for me (Psalm 56:9), and always with me (Hebrews 13:5), and that nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:39). Through his word, God gave me an undeniable sense of his presence, just as he did with Joseph.

But my story seems to diverge from Joseph’s. Suddenly and miraculously, Joseph was completely delivered. He was freed from prison, his brothers were humbled and repentant, and he was awarded unprecedented power. He could say to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). While he went through great pain and disappointment, in the end Joseph’s story is tied with a bow — a beautiful, inspiring, faith-building bow.

But will all our disappointments get tied up with a bow? Does God mean everything for my good? Some of my losses cannot or will not be reversed in this life, and I have seen faithful friends die without being rescued. How do I reconcile that?

God Is Preparing You

As I return to the Bible, I see that because of heaven, my future is indeed guaranteed. Just as with Joseph, nothing can keep me from God’s best. Every one of Joseph’s disappointments was essential in bringing about God’s magnificent plan — a plan for Joseph’s good, the good of his people, and for the glory of God.

Each of my disappointments has been necessary. If they were not, God would not have brought them. From Joseph, I have learned to trust that every time I suffer loss, God is preparing me for something greater.

For some of us, God may be preparing for us earthly blessings and influence, like Joseph. But for every follower of Christ, God is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is “beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). I am convinced that the losses that appear unrestored and unredeemed on earth will yield the greatest reward in heaven.

Where is God when things keep getting worse? He is with us. And he is always for us. And one day we will see how he has used our pain and losses to accomplish far more than we could ask or imagine.

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The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering

Enough, Lord. It is too much.

SOURCE:  Michele Cushatt, from Relentless

A Cleft in a Rock

When You Reach the End of Yourself, God Is Still There

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” ~ C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. ~ Henri Nouwen, Eternal Seasons

 

I’ve spent more than my share of dark nights curled up and alone, screaming at a storm raging outside the window of my life, knowing I could do nothing to bring it to a stop.

But still I waited for someone to find me rocking and weeping, to lift me up, to hold me close and tell me everything was going to be okay.

There was a time I doubted the validity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Until I went to the dentist a few months after cancer. One moment I was sitting down in a chair for a replacement filling and cap, and the next moment I was hyperventilating in a near panic. The dentist and hygienist looked bewildered, confused by my reaction to a routine procedure. Not only would it be over in a handful of minutes, I’d done it before. My reaction didn’t reflect my circumstances. And although I knew this intellectually, I couldn’t do anything about my physical response to it. I was at the mercy of memory.

Somehow, I managed to get through the appointment, as well as several other dental visits since. But after surviving head and neck cancer, I no longer respond to medical appointments with nonchalance. I now must dig deep for emotional resilience and allow space for recovery. Each time, I return home exhausted, hands shaking and tears brimming. Even when I know everything is okay.

Signs of my trauma show up in other ways. Each year, during the months of November through March, I struggle to sleep. Those are the months when cancer showed up — in 2010, in 2013, and again in 2014. I often have nightmares during the holidays, either reliving my almost dying or enduring a new diagnosis that requires the same suffering. Each time, I wake up in a sweat. And it takes me a full day to convince myself it was only a dream.

And then there are the random encounters, online or in person, with people who bear the same scars that I do. And while my heart wants to connect with them, my body rebels against it, as if their proximity stirs up too many memories. I find myself either on the verge of anger or tears, or fighting an urge to run away as fast as possible.

A few weeks ago, while I was getting blood drawn for yet another blood test, the phlebotomist told me a story of her son. In early childhood, he endured a freak accident that nearly killed him. She spent months next to his bedside, helping him through multiple surgeries and hospitalizations and nursing him back to health. He’s now in his late twenties, married and with children, and his medical trauma sits two long decades in the past. Even so, he told her about a recent routine physical and blood workup. When the nurse ripped open a packet containing an alcohol swab to clean his skin, the smell sent him into a panic. He experienced a rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and an overwhelming sense of terror. All because of the familiar smell of alcohol. Twenty years later and his body remembers.

It took my own experience with PTSD — first with my youngest children and then with myself — to recognize that traumatic responses aren’t reserved only for Vietnam veterans and victims of violent abuse. Neglect, accidents, a family death, and significant medical crises can all mark a body. Then gender, biology, personality, and various other hidden factors can individualize the traumatic experience. This means several individuals who experience the same circumstance may respond in different ways. Regardless, one response doesn’t make any other less valid.

Ignoring or minimizing trauma and responses to it does nothing to help a person heal. I know this now. Within three months of almost dying, I resumed all of my responsibilities at home and dove back into traveling, writing, and working. My compulsion baffles me, why I thought I needed to bootstrap my way through each day, stuffing my feelings so deep within I could pretend, temporarily, that they didn’t wound me as they did. And although this determination to move forward saved me in one regard, the trauma of what had happened would not be ignored. Like cancer, it only grew with my lack of sober attention.

One of the most dangerous Christian practices (and expectations) is the compulsion to present a put-together, unflappable faith.

On the whole, we haven’t done a very good job of making space for a struggle that lasts longer than we think it should. We may give the struggler grace for a day, a week, a month, a year. But sooner than later, we decide it’s high time she pulled it together. This pressure — whether spoken or unspoken — only pushes the sufferer to hide and neglect the long, hard process of healing.

The night in the basement, holding the pain reliever while wondering if suicide would be my only real relief, was the result, in part, of this pressure to perform. For months I had tried to stay strong, keep myself together, present a tough, faith-filled front. But eventually, I ran out of fight. I could no longer muscle my way through my reality.

In the years since, I’ve experienced too many other dark nights when the thought of death seemed to be my only out. But how could I tell those close to me about the black hole that swallowed me? How could I let them know how desperately I wanted it all to end? Good Christian girls aren’t supposed to toy with such thoughts. To reveal the truth would invite more disappointment and shame. And I’d already had enough of both. The pressure I felt came from within and without, but the result was the same. I felt alone in my nightmare, too embarrassed and ashamed to admit I needed help.

Although it was painful, I feel a measure of gratitude for my descent into the dark, because it helped me to see what I needed to see. There was no pretending anymore. No muscling through the losses. Instead, I needed to honor the pain by telling the truth about it, to myself and to others. I needed to see my circumstances for what they were and validate my experience of them.

And I needed to admit, after years of pushing hard through too many impossible circumstances, that I’d finally reached the end of myself.

There’s an oft-used cliche that goes something like this: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I have a few things to say about this claim, but I’ll begin with this: It’s a load of garbage. It may roll off the tongue reeeeaaal niiiiiice, but it is a big, fat lie.

In spite of the number of times I’ve been the unwilling recipient of that mantra, I’ve experienced more than I can handle more than once. Each time, in spite of my extraordinary efforts, I had nothing left to give. No tools, no insights, no solutions, no strength. My characteristic sleeve-rolling, hard-work-and-determination grit dissolved. Struggle and suffering had taken me under. I was flat-faced on the ground. Period.

But don’t take my word for it. The Bible is filled with stories of those bent in two under the weight of hard circumstances.

Take Elijah for example.

Elijah was a prophet, a devout one. In an age of paganism, rebellion, and persecution, Elijah served God with passion and fearlessness. Determined and obedient, he delivered God’s words to a stubborn horde of Israelites again and again, urging them to turn back to God. He even dared to confront King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, something that required not a little amount of courage considering their penchant for murdering God’s prophets. They turned their sights on Elijah, the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17).

Rather than cower, Elijah challenges Ahab and his false prophets to a duel — a showdown between their god, Baal, and Elijah’s God. When the day arrives, 450 prophets of Baal stand against a lone Elijah, the last of God’s prophets. The 450 prophets of Baal pray like champs. No god replies from the skies. But when Elijah prays a single, sincere prayer, God comes down in a consuming fire (1 Kings 18).

I’d call that a decisive victory. Score.

At this point, Elijah expects Ahab, Jezebel, and the Israelites to come to their senses, to turn from their wickedness and once again follow God. But that’s not what happens.

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them’. — 1 Kings 19:1-2

Terrified, Elijah runs for his life (1 Kings 19:3) all the way from Jezreel to Beersheba, a distance of about a hundred miles. Then leaving his servant behind, he continues another full day’s journey into the wilderness alone. Because some disappointments don’t allow space for company.

There, collapsed under a broom bush, Elijah reaches the end of himself.
‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
— 1 Kings 19:4-5

Elijah’s bush wasn’t all that different from my basement. Despair. Frustration. Disappointment. Exhaustion.

Enough, Lord.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said similar words.

The doctors’ appointments. The therapy appointments. The conflicts and chronic pain, the headaches and heartaches. The praying, praying, praying and trying, trying, trying only to experience more obstacles, more pain, more confusion.

Enough, Lord. Please. Take my life.

Life often feels like a series of one-hundred-mile days. While I’ve never had a price on my head, I know what it feels like to pay a high price to live. Like Elijah, there are days when my enthusiasm over my mighty God is tempered by the reality that He doesn’t always behave the way I expect Him to.

He doesn’t always take the pain away.
He doesn’t always cure the illness.
He doesn’t always restore the relationship, resolve the conflict, deliver peace and rest.

Buried in frustration and defeat, I collapse into despair, questioning myself even more than I question Him. Surely I’ve done something wrong. I’m not the faith giant I’d hoped I’d be. Instead, I’m no better than any other struggler, weary and flat-faced.

At this point someone invariably offers me the load-of-garbage maxim. God will never give you more than you can handle. The irony? They throw it as a life preserver, hoping to save me from drowning in my circumstances. Instead, the cliche lands like a two-ton weight, finishing me off.

Which is why it matters to me how God responds to Elijah’s despair. Rather than a worthless cliche, He offers Elijah comfort.
All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. — 1 Kings 19:5-8

What does God do?
He doesn’t rebuke him.
He doesn’t quote Scripture at him.
He doesn’t tell him to get his act together or his butt in church. He doesn’t tell him how much worse it could be.
And He doesn’t tell him that He will never give him more than he can handle.
There is no bootstrapping, guilt-tripping, manhandling, heavy-load-throwing.
Instead, God touches him. And feeds him. Twice.
Skin to skin, a tangible acknowledgment of presence.
And bread hot out of the oven. Comfort food. Maybe a casserole with extra cheese. Likely a pan of double-chocolate brownies. Nourishment of body and soul.
Why?

Because the journey is too much for you.

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Excerpted from Relentless by Michele Cushatt, copyright Michele Cushatt.

FEAR & PANIC: DO’S AND DON’TS for Family and Friends

SOURCE:  June Hunt

To support a loved one who is struggling with fear, learn what to do and what not to do. You can very well be that person’s answer to prayer.

“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

• Don’t become impatient when you don’t understand their fear.
Do understand that what fearful people feel is real.
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)

• Don’t think they are doing this for attention.
Do realize they are embarrassed and want to change.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

• Don’t be critical or use demeaning statements.
Do be gentle and supportive, and build up their self-confidence.
“Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

• Don’t assume you know what is best.
Do ask how you can help.
“We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

• Don’t make them face a threatening situation without planning.
Do give them instruction in positive self-talk and relaxation exercises.
“Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” (Proverbs 4:13)

• Don’t make them face the situation alone.
Do be there and assure them of your support.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

• Don’t begin with difficult situations.
Do help them to begin facing their fear in small increments.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2–3)

• Don’t constantly ask, “How are you feeling?”
Do help them see the value of having other interests.
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

• Don’t show disappointment and displeasure if they fail.
Do encourage them and compliment their efforts to conquer their fear.
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be absurd; there’s nothing for you to fear!”
Do say, “No matter how you feel, tell yourself the truth, ‘I will take one step at a time.’”
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be a coward; you have to do this!”
Do say, “I know this is difficult for you, but it’s not dangerous. You have the courage to do this.”
“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:23)

• Don’t say, “Quit living in the past; this is not that bad.”
Do say, “Remember to stay in the present and remind yourself, ‘That was then, and this is now.’”
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)

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Hunt, J. (2013). Fear (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.

When Fear Seizes You

SOURCE:  Stacey Reaoch/Desiring God

This past fall my husband had the privilege of going to Turkey to speak at a conference for Christian workers. Although I was excited for his opportunity, I was also feeling somewhat hesitant with the terrorist activity in nearby Syria. Thanks to modern technology, we planned to FaceTime every day to keep in close touch with each other.

One day during that week, our appointed time to connect went by with no contact from my husband. Maybe he’s just running late, I reasoned. I looked for text messages . . . negative. I checked to make sure my ringer was turned up loud enough . . . affirmative. Maybe he’s deep in conversation with someone. . . . But as the minutes turned into hours, fear began to seize me. Unfortunately, I learned of terrorists near the Turkey border as I began watching world news reports.

As fear began to consume me, every worst possible situation played out in my head. Had terrorists overcome the conference and taken captives? What would I do? My mind went through multiple scenarios: explaining to our children what had happened, looking for a job to support our family, and wondering whether to sell the house. By the time my husband was finally able to call, I had already decided where to move and how much to sell the house for. Come to find out, he was just fine.

Fear Feeds Irrationality

“During our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us.”

When fear seizes you, all your ability to think rationally evaporates. Life becomes overwhelming, and the promises of God are thrown out the window. When Moses sent the spies into Canaan to gather information for the people of Israel, fear of the looming giants became much more visible than any of the blessings Canaan had to offer. Although they obediently gathered fruit from the land, their report focused on all the seemingly impossible obstacles they faced.

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:27–28). As the spies exaggerated and gave the worst report possible, they compared themselves to grasshoppers and claimed the land would devour them (Numbers 13:32–33).

This fearful exaggeration infected the Israelites who succumbed to crying and grumbling against Moses and Aaron, and it even led them to claim they wish they’d died in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2–3)!

It seems Israel forgot God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan, despite the obstacles that looked so intimidating. “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel” (Numbers 13:2). If the Israelites had truly trusted God’s promise, even their enemies in Canaan shouldn’t have been a threat to them. God was going to give Israel the Promised Land, just as he’d said to Abraham hundreds of years before. And during our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us too.

Fighting Off Fear

When fear begins to creep in and all the “what-if” situations begin to consume your mind, here are seven things to remember:

1. God’s truth. Is what I’m thinking about really happening? Or is it just my imagination running wild? Paul reminds us to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

“We can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.”

2. God’s presence. We can be comforted remembering that we are not alone. God is with us. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

3. God’s grace. God promises to provide us with his all-sufficient grace for every trial that comes our way. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” Jesus told Paul. And therefore, with Paul, we can “boast all the more gladly of [our] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [us]” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

4. God’s sovereignty. God is in control over every situation in our lives. “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

5. God’s listening ear. Pour out your heart to God in prayer. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

6. God’s trustworthiness. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4).

7. God’s big picture plan. No matter how awful this trial may seem, God promises to use everything together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We may not see the good in our situation at the time, but we can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.

So, when your child is diagnosed with cancer, or you just learned of a loved one in a car accident, or your husband comes home with news that he was let go from his job, prepare yourself for battle. Don’t let the Enemy use fear to seize you and take you captive. Fight him off with the promises of God’s word and his unchanging character.

9 Tips For Helping Your Child Manage Anxiety

SOURCE:  Helena Negru/Lifehack

Parents want nothing more than to see childhood remain a time of carefree wonder and joy for their children, an age of innocence wherein the troubles of the wider world are kept at a safe distance by caring adult oversight.

As such, the parents who have anxious children are faced with a difficult dilemma: How do they protect their children from the multitude of relatively “normal” activities (e.g. going to school, socializing with friends) that provoke anxiety and fear while also ensuring that they experience life fully and develop properly? How do they help their child manage anxiety?

There are no easy answers to the above question. Psychologist Tali Shenfield, PhD suggests that parents first evaluate the level of child’s anxiety with a free child anxiety screening test and then, depending on test results, use the following anxiety management strategies:

1. An “empathy first” approach

When most parents hear their child expressing irrational fears, their first response is to assure their child that, logically, there is nothing to worry about. While this act is well-intentioned, it’s usually ineffective; the brain of any anxious individual – young or old – is too engaged in the “fight or flight” response (wherein activity in the prefrontal cortex, the “logical” part of the brain, is suppressed) to properly process new information.

What an anxious child therefore really needs is a parent who simply feels with him- one who pauses with him, joins him in taking a few deep breaths, and then validates his emotions as being acceptable.

Once you have empathized with your child and he has visibly calmed down, then and only then should you look for possible solutions. Do this while engaging your child: Ask him what he thinks would help him to feel better and overcome his fears.

2. Avoid making your child feel like a problem to be fixed

Children – even children without chronic anxiety – frequently struggle with fears of being “different” from their peers or unacceptable to their parents. If your child feels like his anxiety means something is “wrong” with him, his issues with worry will only increase as he will be plagued by constant self-doubt.

To prevent the above from happening, avoid labelling your child (i.e. don’t call him an “anxious person” or a “worrier”); instead, explain to him fear’s historically beneficial role in protecting us from harm (i.e. our instincts once helped us to avoid predators in the wild).

Ideally, you should teach your child to see worry like a tool: It’s useful in some situations, but in others, our brains are simply reacting to “false alarms” due to instinct. Tell your child that it’s possible to learn a few simple methods for recognizing these false alarms and for dealing with them effectively.

3. Consider using play to help your child understand his anxiety

Role playing exercises, such as having your child create a character which embodies his worry, can help your child learn how to dismantle his anxieties. Use a toy (such as a doll or stuffed animal) to represent the character your child creates, then you and your child can sit together and practice talking the character out of his misplaced fears. Make sure that every time the character succeeds in overcoming his anxiety during the stories created for him, he ends up with a “happy ending” as a result.

4. Teach your child how to centre himself in reality

Our fears have a way of distorting reality, making situations appear much scarier than they actually are. To help your child overcome the mind’s innate tendency to exaggerate objects of worry, teach him to:

  1. Recognize worried thoughts as they happen. Visualization is useful here: Tell your child to imagine thoughts floating above his head in “thought bubbles,” then ask him to practice catching the fearful thoughts as they pop up.
  1. Deconstruct the thoughts he catches using factual evidence. Emphasize to your child that feelings are not facts. When faced with a worry, tell your child that he should weigh up factual evidence for and against what his mind is telling him (for example, if he fears failing a test, he should review the many times he has passed tests over the years and remind himself that he has studied thoroughly, making failure unlikely).
  1. Debate with his thoughts (if necessary). Using the facts he has just gathered, you child can debate with the worried thoughts his mind is producing until he eventually wins and overcomes them.

5. Allow your child to worry

The more your child feels as though he should be able to simply shove his worries away, the more he will believe he is somehow failing when he cannot. You should therefore avoid saying things like, “There’s no reason to be afraid” and instead encourage your child to express his worries.

Creating a “worry diary” is an excellent strategy for getting your child to vent what’s bothering him; have him spend 15 minutes a day writing down any worry that is weighing on him – no matter how small – and allow him to share those worries with you if he wishes. At the end of the 15 minutes, have him literally close the book on his worries and set them aside.

6. Affirm the importance of remaining in the present moment

Like anxious adults, anxious children spend a lot of time preoccupied with “what ifs.” Instruct your child to try to catch his “what if” thoughts and replace them with “what is” thoughts. For example, if he’s thinking, “What if my new friend stops liking me?” he should pause, focus on nothing but his breath for a few moments, then look around and take in “what is”: The sun shining as he waits for the bus, the sound of the birds in the trees, the feeling of the warm air.

Intentionally returning one’s focus to the present in this way (by focusing on sensory perceptions) is a form of Mindfulness, a popular therapeutic practice which has been repeatedly shown to lessen anxiety.

7. Help your child take “baby steps” in order to overcome fearful situations

It is usually impossible – and always unhelpful – for an anxious individual to avoid everything that is causing him anxiety. Instead, your child should try the “ladder” approach: Overcoming fearful situations by working up to them in a succession of small steps.

If your child is afraid of dogs, for instance, have him start by observing a familiar dog (one that belongs to a friend, for example) from a distance, then have him walk closer to the dog while it’s safely leashed, then have him try to pet the dog while another person is still holding the leash, and then finally, let him interact with the dog briefly while it’s off its leash. If this process is repeated a few times with a few different friendly dogs, your child will likely overcome his terror.

8. Have your child create a “calm down” checklist

Ask your child to write down a series of steps to take when he needs to calm down (e.g. pause, breathe deeply, count to ten, evaluate the facts of the situation, etc.), so that he has something clear to refer to when he begins to feel panicky and confused. Make sure that your child carries a copy of this checklist with him until he memorizes the steps.

9. Don’t blame yourself for your child’s anxiety

Many parents of anxious children wonder if they have somehow “caused” their child to become excessively fearful, but this is usually not the case: Genetics and environmental factors over which parents have limited control (bullying at school, for example, or a traumatic accident) often lie at the root of childhood anxiety – not “bad parenting.”

It’s important to avoid blaming yourself for your child’s anxiety; the more you do so, the more emotional you will become about the situation and the less able you will be to help your child stay calm (your own worry will eventually cause you to become reactive, which will affirm your child’s idea that there is something to be afraid of). Instead, see yourself as your child’s ally, a member of his team as he fights against anxiety.

Remember, being compassionate to yourself, as well as to your child, is essential when creating a calm, loving, and healthy home for your whole family. If you find yourself struggling to cope with your child’s anxiety, don’t go it alone – seek the aid of friends, family members, and if necessary, a mental health professional. With the right support, you and your child can triumph over irrational fears and live full, happy lives.

The Anatomy of Anxiety

By Dr. Robert Kellemen

Does worry, doubt, or fear get the best of you sometimes? Do you wonder where anxiety comes from and how to defeat it in your life and the lives of those you love?

Then we need a biblical anatomy of anxiety.

God intended for us to experience a mood that is the “flip side” of anxiety. If we are to understand the “disorder” of anxiety, we must understand the “order” that sin has disordered. What normal, healthy, God-given process has become perturbed in anxiety?

Vigilance

Anxiety is vigilance out of control and out of context. God designed us with the mood of vigilance which is meant to move us to relationship and impact. With vigilance, God puts us in fast motion, urges us to act quickly in response to a life threat.

Anxiety is “stuck vigilance.” Vigilance is proper, constructive concern for the well-being of others, the world, and self. Anxiety is vigilance minus faith in the Father. Vigilance results in tend and befriend behavior. Anxiety results in flight or fight behavior.

Anxiety is vigilance that does not turn us back to trust. It leads us to a toxic scanning of our environment. God says, “Be vigilant! Be alert! Take your stand, and having done all, stand firm! Quit ye like men!”

Anxiety says, “What if? I can’t handle this! I have to run. I have to fight. I have to self-protect!” Anxiety is scanning without standing. Instead of scanning and standing, we scan, and scan, and scan… It is continual worry. Continued “what if?” thinking and feeling.

The Family Tree of Anxiety

Vigilant faith, anxiety, and anger are cousins. Their family tree? Vigor, from which we gain three related words: vigilante, vigil, and vigorous. Anxiety and anger involve vigilance without faith and without love. They are non-trust, non-relational responses to threat.

Vigilance, on the other hand, is a trust, relational response to threat. It relates to others by protecting the person being threatened. It relates to others by engaging, challenging, confronting (not attacking) the person doing the threatening. It relates to God by trusting that what He calls me to do, He equips me to fulfill. In God’s Kingdom we are either worriers or warriors!

 

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 2: Sentry Duty

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

Picture the difference between anger, anxiety, and vigilant faith like this:

*Anger: The Fight Response to Threat—Attack: Vigilante Justice.

Taking matters into my own hands.

*Anxiety: The Flight Response to Threat—Retreat: Vigil without Action.

Taking my safety into my own hands. “If I worry enough, at least I feel as if I have some control.”

*Vigilance: The Faith Response to Threat—Befriend and Tend (Engage and Protect): Vigorous Response.

Taking the safety of myself and others and surrendering it to God’s hands while I take a stand for God’s plan. It is befriending and tending to others even when I am threatened.

Called to Sentry Duty

The root “vig” relates to sentry. God built into our brains a sentry. A sentinel. Adam went off sentry duty when he allowed his wife to be attacked by Satan without intervening. He failed to use his vigor—his energy, force, power given to him from God to “keep the garden” and to “cleave to his wife.”

Where does fear fit into this equation? We know that fear is a God-given emotion. We are called to fear God. Why did God create us with a capacity to fear, and how does fear run amok?

Fear is our response to uncertainty about our resources in the face of danger. We are assaulted by a force that overwhelms us. Then we are compelled to face that we are helpless and that ultimately our safety is out of our control. Faith faces this reality by trusting in the unseen reality of a God who cares and controls. Fear compels me to face my neediness.

Anxiety is fear without faith. It is vigilance run amok. We scan the horizon constantly, fearfully, but without ever taking action or responsibility. And without clinging to God.

Biblical Models

Jesus models constructive vigilance in the garden. He faced His dread of death (Matthew 26:39). And He placed faith in His Father’s good heart and strong hands (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus’ disciples modeled destructive fear and anxiety. Peter at one point chose the fight response of vigilante justice—cutting off an ear! At another point Peter chose the flight response of vigil without action—denying the Lord three times. All of the disciples displayed the inability to hold a vigil. “Could you not keep vigil with me one hour?”

Faith or Fear?

Healthy vigilance and a godly response to fear prompt us to relationship: trusting God with faith. And it prompts us to impact: protecting others through vigilance with vigor.

Abnormal, unhealthy, sinful anxiety prompts us to retreat from relationship: we turn to inward scanning without relational trust in God. And it prompts us to retreat from impact: we experience vigilance without vigor as we self-protect instead of lovingly and strongly protecting others.

Fear of God roots us in the essence of existence not in the externals of our situation. Where does fear drive us? To protect ourselves through the flight response of anxiety or the fight response of anger? Or to God, our Protector who empowers us to tend and befriend (“Guard the garden!”)?

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 3: From Fear to Faith by Love

A Theology of Anxiety

To develop relevant, effective “methods” of helping one another to deal with anxiety, we first need a biblical, accurate “theology” of life. In a “theology of anxiety,” we address: a.) the core question we all ask, b.) the core issues we all face, c.) the core longing we all pursue, and d.) the core fear we all face.

The Core Question We All Ask

The deepest questions in the human soul are God-questions. We all ask the core question, “How can I experience peace with God?” Such peace, biblically speaking, involves shalom—harmony, wholeness, oneness, communion, and fullness. Therefore, the ultimate focus in spiritual friendship is to assist each other in our quest for peace with God.

Put practically, when I am ministering to a friend struggling with anxiety, I am asking myself, “Where is my spiritual friend doubting God’s accepting grace in Christ? Where is he or she doubting God’s affectionate sovereignty?”

The Core Issues We All Face

The core issues we all face in life are relational issues because God created us in His own Trinitarian, communitarian, relational image. Therefore, relational issues become our predominant diagnostic indicator. The fundamental lens through which I interpret life is the lens of relationship.

So, when I am ministering to an anxious friend, I am asking myself, “What relational separation issues might be lying hidden beneath my spiritual friend’s specific fears?”

The Core Longing We All Pursue

Created to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, our core longing in life is for relational connection, communion, and peace—not simply the absence of hostility, but the presence of unity and equality in diversity. Since the deepest longing in life is relationship, the greatest power we have as spiritual friends is our relationship with one another.

Practically speaking, in ministering to a friend battling anxiety, I am asking myself, “How can I offer my spiritual friend tastes of Christ’s mature love and grace?”

The Core Fear We All Face

The core fear in life is shameful separation. Adam and Eve said it well and experienced it first. “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” Anxiety is the hiding disease. We fear exposure.

In ministering to a friend fighting against such relational fear, I am asking myself, “What core nakedness is my spiritual friend terrified will be exposed?”

 

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 4: God’s Peace for Our Anxiety
Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear

In 1 John 4:18, God tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear”—phobos, phobia, terror, panic, separation anxiety. Such fear involves paralyzing apprehension that causes me to flee what I fear or become paralyzed when facing my fear because I doubt my relational security and acceptance. What overpowers such fear of rejection, separation, and condemnation?

God’s answer is faith in perfect love—perfect agape, sacrificial, giving, grace-oriented love. Anxieties and phobias signify a failure to apprehend and apply God’s powerful promise of gracious acceptance.

Spiritual: Faith in God—Accept God’s Acceptance

We need to help one another to reject Satan’s condemnation narrative—his lie that we are unforgiven because God is unforgiving. We need to move with each other from alienation to communion through reconciliation.

We need to make real in our lives the truth that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. We need to make real in our lives the truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. As Martin Luther often said, “sanctification is the art of getting used to our justification.”

I would add, “peace and freedom from anxiety is the art of getting used to our reconciliation.”

Social—Faith in One Another—Trusting My Brothers and Sisters

Since mature love casts out fear, I need mature relationships with my brothers and sisters to conquer anxiety. I need to move from separation to community.

The temptation in anxiety is to do the opposite of what we need—to avoid people due to fear of rejection. Instead, we need to experience our partnership in the Gospel. We need to forgive and accept one another as Christ has forgiven and accepted us.

Self-Aware: Faith in Our Acceptance in Christ

Since mature love casts out fear, I need a mature biblical attitude about who I am in and to Christ. I need to see the new me. This is not about “self-esteem,” or “self-image,” but about “Christ-esteem” and an accurate biblical image of who I am in Christ.

This moves us from the paralyzing terror of nakedness that leads to the fear of exposure and rejection to the bold freedom and confidence that comes when we know we are unashamed and without blame in Christ Jesus. I must face my existential doubts (my doubts about my acceptance in Christ) in order to face, understand, and overcome my specific anxieties, fears, and phobias.

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 5: Why Am I Afraid?

What Is the Biblical Portrait of Phobia, Fear, and Anxiety?

John tells us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

The word John uses for “fear” is “phobos.” It is used 138 times in the New Testament. Interestingly, the number one New Testament command is, “Fear not!”

In a positive sense, phobos can mean reverence, awe, respect, and honor.

In a negative usage, it means terror, apprehension, alarm, and arousal to flee. In Matthew 28:4, we have a word picture of phobos/phobia. When the Angel of the Lord appears, the guards fear and fall like dead men. Thus here it is used of paralysis of action.

In Luke 21:26, phobos relates to uncertain expectations, terror, apprehension that fears the “What next!?”

In Romans 8:15, phobos has the idea of slavish terror as Paul reminds us that we have been given a spirit of sonship, confidence, and relational acceptance, not a spirit of slavish terror about relational rejection.

Fear of Ultimate Rejection

John is quite specific in his portrait as he says fear has to do with punishment. Punishment means rejection, separation, condemnation—to be left as a loveless orphan, to be abandoned as a helpless child.

To understand John fully, we must go back one verse. In 1 John 4:17, John says that “love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment.”

Confidence is openness, frankness, boldness, assurance, concealing nothing, no hiding, no shame, no fear. It is the courage to come boldly before the throne of grace—because of grace! It is the courage to express myself freely and openly in relationship because I know there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

So What Is Phobia, Fear, and Anxiety?

So, how does the Bible picture and define anxiety, fear, and phobia? We might summarize it like this:

“Phobia is paralyzing apprehension causing me to flee what I fear or to become paralyzed when facing my fear because I doubt my relational acceptance and security, because I doubt God’s grace. My ultimate fear is fear of rejection by God. That fear is the cause of all other fears in life.”

What do I fear?

“I fear God, but not in the sense of reverence and awe. I fear God’s rejection because I refuse to place faith in God’s gracious acceptance of me in Christ.”

Why am I afraid?

“If the God of the universe rejects me, then I’m on my own. And If I’m on my own, life is too much for me.”

Making It Real

Let’s make it real-life practical. Phobia/phobos/fear/anxiety makes me feel like:

*“Life is unsafe. It’s too hard for me.”

*”If I cry out for help, no one will respond. If I reach up to God, He won’t care because He has rejected me. He is ashamed of me and I am ashamed in His presence.”

*”I won’t be protected. There’s no one who cares and no one who is in control. No one is flying this plane!”

*”I am orphaned and left alone because no one cares about me. Therefore, I have to make life work on my own.”

*”But I’m small, childlike, inadequate. I can’t overcome the 800-pound gorilla of life. While I must face life alone, life is too much for me to face.”

So How Do We Diagnose Fear?

Phobias, fear, worries, and anxiety signify my failure to grasp and apply God’s powerful promise of gracious acceptance and protection. Fear and anxiety are caused by my refusal to accept my acceptance in Christ. If I believe Satan’s lying, condemning narrative, then I am left with no option other than trusting in myself. And I am far too small to handle life on my own.

Fear becomes a vicious cycle. Fearing God’s rejection, I reject God’s help, and I end up feeling helpless to face life.

The Rest of the Story: There Has to Be a Better Way

There has to be a better way, don’t you think? I sure hope so!

John gives us that better way when he tells us that “perfect love casts our all fear” (1 John 4:18).

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 6: Ten Snap Shots of Anxiety

 

  1. Emotions are e-motions. God designed them to set us in motion. They are part of the God-designed motivational structure of the soul. E-motions motivate action.2. God gave us the e-motion of vigilance to urge us to act quickly and courageously in response to a life need. When vigilance works, we have “mood order.”

    3. Vigilance is a faith response to threat. In our faith response, we love God by trusting Him, and we love others by protecting them.4. However, living in a fallen world, inhabiting unredeemed bodies, and tempted by an unloving enemy—Satan (the world, the flesh, and the devil), our vigilance can turn to hyper-vigilance, or stuck vigilance when we experience threat without faith.

    5. In stuck vigilance, instead of a faith response to threat, we have a fear response to threat that leads either to flight (anxiety, panic) or fight (anger, aggression). When e-motions misfire like this, we have “mood disorder.”

    6. So when fear strikes, we should be asking, “Where does fear drive me? Does it drive me to self-protection by flight or fight? Or does fear drive me to God, my Protector?”

    7. Faith that works does not shun vigilance. Rather, it controls vigilance. It refuses to allow the emotions to control the mind.

    8. God calls us to manage our moods and to master our emotions. We are not to ignore them, stuff them, or harm others with them. David is a biblical portrait of mature mood management. In Psalm 42, he is emotionally aware. “Why are you disquieted within me, O, my soul?” David then demonstrates soothing his soul in God. “Hope thou in God.” As Martin Lloyd-Jones says, David talked to himself rather than simply listening to himself!

    9. When anxiety stalks, faith wrestles. Faith talks to the self. “I know God will never leave me nor forsake me. I can do all things through Christ. I am more than a conqueror. Nothing will ever separate me from the love of God in Christ.”

    10. When faith wrestles anxiety, we refuse the fight or flight response. Instead, we choose the tend and befriend response. Trusting God’s protection, we refuse to protect our self. Instead, we courageously protect others for God’s glory.

The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 7:

A Dozen Biblical Portraits of Anxiety

The Bible Is Relevant

Some people talk about “making the Bible relevant.”

We don’t make the Bible relevant. The Bible is the most relevant book ever written.

In fact, we have to work hard to make the Bible irrelevant. We have to work hard to make the Bible boring.

Other people talk about the sufficiency of the Scriptures. I believe 100% that the Bible is sufficient. However, far too many people fail to link the sufficiency of Scripture with the relevancy of Scripture.

We should never talk about the sufficiency of Scripture without also emphasizing the relevancy of Scripture.

The Relevancy of the Bible and Anxiety

What does all of this have to do with an anatomy of anxiety?

Some people think that the only biblical reference to anxiety is Philippians 4:6. They also tend to act like the only biblical counseling that we need to do for a person struggling with anxiety is to quote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

That’s an amazing verse, but the Bible is not simply a “concordance” on anxiety where we tell people, “take two verses and call me in the morning.”

The Reality of the Bible: The Agony of Anxiety

The Bible presents an amazing array of an anatomy of anxiety. I want to share just a small sampler of those to whet your appetite. These verses and passages realistically depict the agony of anxiety.

The Bible is real and raw. It tells about real people with real problems. It presents real answers from a real God.

One of the myriad beauties of the Bible is it teaches us that we are not alone. Others have suffered like we do now. And others have found victory. This sense of “universality”—that others are in the same boat, encourages us when life beats us down.

A Dozen Biblical Samplers of the Experience of Anxiety

If you are struggling with fear, panic, worry, or anxiety, consider the following samplers as just a few passages you can turn to that depict struggles with fear and anxiety in other godly men and women of the Bible.

*Psalm 27: When fear assaults, David seeks God’s face.

*Psalm 34: Read of David’s fear and broken-heartedness and God’s care and cure.
*Psalm 46: Learn of God’s strength and ever-present help in our trouble and anxieties.

*Psalm 55: David’s thoughts trouble him—ever been there? He is distraught—been there, done that! His heart is in anguish within him; terrors of death assail him. Fear and trembling beset him; horrors overwhelm him. He casts all his cares on Jehovah; He cries out to Jehovah in distress. He pleads for God’s sustaining care.

*Psalm 91: This psalm has been called the 911 Psalm. When you experience terror and foreboding and feel like life is an unavoidable snare and trap, call God’s 911 hotline and find God to be your refuge and shield.

*Psalm 109: David candidly speaks of his wounded heart (109:22). He is poor and needy, shaken and fading away (109:23). Attacked by others, he clings to God.

*Psalm 116: The psalmist is overcome by trouble, afflicted, and dismayed, overly concerned, imprisoned by anguish. Where will rest be found?

*Matthew 6:25-33: Jesus’ teaching on worry and trusting Father’s good heart.

*Matthew 10:26-31: Jesus’ teaching on fear and trusting Father’s affectionate sovereignty.

*John 14:1-31: Jesus’ loving message to His disciples and to us—when our hearts are troubled, when we feel orphaned and all alone, where do we find peace? Do not let your hearts be troubled.

*Philippians 4:1-20: A classic passage on anxiety—but note that it is a passage in the context of a book. It is not simply a verse to quote like waving a magic wand.

*1 Peter 5:5-11: Another classic New Testament passage in a wider context that includes not only casting our care on God who cares, but also discusses vigilance (5:8)—sound familiar?

 

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Children and Spouses of Troubled Families

SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*The Children — Many children of dysfunctional families (termed CODF’s) have to cope with baffling and painful situations.  Children who are subjected to abuse of different kinds may receive little or no help from others, mainly because their teachers, neighbors, and church leaders may not realize their plight.  Without assistance from others, children try to fix themselves.  Clumsily, with childish hands, they suture the wounds, often leaving ugly scars or unhealed lesions that split open in later life.  All of this is an attempt to protect themselves from the abuse.  The home has the power to produce angry, rebellious, or disheartened children.  Families can aggravate serious psychological disorders.  Kids under stress can develop an abundance of physical and emotional problems even while in the womb.  Many scientists how believe that stress can program a fetus to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other disorders in adulthood.  So sensitive is the brain to its environment that absence of emotional warmth can kill brain cells.  The loss of these cells is devastating during a child’s early years, when brain connections require learning skills for language, math, and getting along with others. As infants, if anything interferes with bonding with their mothers, they may have permanent emotional scars that will influence the outcome of the remainder of their development.  The extent of the damage done to CODF’s depends on lots of factors, for example, when in the life of the child the parent became addicted, how the family reacted to it, how long the addiction continued, and the severity of the abuse and neglect.

Thankfully, despite the severity of the situation, not all of these children will be severely wounded.  Psychologists call them resilient or stress-resistant children. Some CODF’s may have a strong orientation toward personal growth.  They are able to initiate and intentionally engage in the process of self-change.  Second, they may possess a trait termed hardiness.  Hardy people are actively involved in living, believing they can control their circumstances.  Some kids are less affected by their stressful family life because of the presence of another adult in their lives.

The children of troubled families may sometimes feel frustrated and unable to control their own lives. Their helplessness may be compounded by a feeling of failure.  This is due to their trying to solve the problem in their family.  Kids feel responsible for their parents’ problems partly because they are so egocentric, believing they are the cause of most everything that happens around them.  But they also may think they are to blame for the problem because the troubled parent tells them they are.  Taking such responsibility on themselves is usually destructive to children because they are doomed to failure.  Without someone explaining to them that they shouldn’t take the weight of the family on their shoulders, they may continue to do this into adulthood and even have trouble stopping then.  Their failure to solve the family’s problems may make them angry.  Thinking their good behavior will make their parents break free from their dependency or compulsion, they may be upset when they don’t get the hoped for results.  Their anger may take the form of resentment.

Expressing anger is complicated by the attachment the child has for the parents.  Besides needing the parents’ care, children are taught to love and respect them, making it very hard to accept the anger and hatred they feel.  Feelings are mixed – love and hate, pity and disgust, anger and sympathy.  The child plays the same Jeckyll-Hyde role the troubled parent is playing. Fear may also keep children from directing anger toward the parent.  And the “don’t feel, don’t talk” rules will make them keep their anger bottled up inside of them.  This may cause them to resort to sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, and other passive-aggressive behaviors.  They may also overreact to normal events and become extremely angry with people who haven’t done anything to deserve such a reaction.

One way CODF’s express anger is by reverting back to an earlier stage of development.  Also, a child may make light of the stressful situation at home or resort to humor to handle it. Additionally, children may be deeply hurt by a parent’s abusive ranting and raving and lack what are known as “self-soothing” abilities.  They lack inner resources to calm themselves in the face of severe stress and intense emotions.  Finally, children in stressful situations may develop a false self.  Instead of the addicted parent’s encouraging the children to express themselves and commending them for it, the parent’s behavior demands that they become something else.  If the parent is also physically or sexually abusive, the squelching of the child’s personality can be extremely severe.

Shame is another emotion that inhibits children’s development of their true self.  Theirs is not a shame for what they have done, but for who they are—an absence of self-respect.  The time between eighteen months to three years is a time when a child gains a sense of autonomy.  Restricting the child, as dysfunctional families are prone to do, may make them doubt and dislike themselves.  Guilt feelings may also develop very early from ages three to six.  In an addictive family, the children may receive little affirmation for their ventures and be blamed for innocent mistakes, causing them to feel guilty for attempts to exert themselves.

They will also be shamed by the embarrassing activities of their parents.  Their shame may also be due to the fact that all children tend to identify with their parents.  Of course, constant parental criticism may result in children’s having little self-respect.  When little children are verbally harangued by their parents, told they are worthless or bad, they will believe these things.  They lack the maturity to realize these messages are lies of an evil, addicted, compulsive person.

Trust will almost always be a problem for the dysfunctional family’s children, too.  Consistent care teaches them that they can rely on others.  If their care is sporadic, harsh, or unkind, they learn to mistrust, making it difficult for them later to form close relationships.  Distracted and disturbed, a dysfunctional family may early breed mistrust in children.  The inconsistency of the wet-dry cycle probably is enough to instill distrust in a child.  Children in dysfunctional families are often compulsive and have a tendency to become addicted to something.  Or they may turn to an addiction as an escape from pain.  The enmeshed family system has taught them to depend on things outside themselves for happiness and satisfaction.  Additionally, children of dysfunctional families are often obsessed with pleasing others.

CODF’s cast themselves in various roles.  The child may choose the role as a survival tactic, or, because each role performs a function in the family system, the system itself will force the child into the part.  Sometimes a specific child will play more than one role or through time switch from one to another.  These roles help the family maintain its dysfunctional homeostasis and can eventually be harmful to the children.  The following are various roles:

Chief Enabler – shelters the addict from consequences of his or her behavior; cost to them is martyrdom;

Family Hero – keeps family’s self-worth, acts as family counselor; cost is a compulsive drive;

Family Scapegoat – diverts attention from the addict; cost is possible self-destructive behavior and often addiction;

Lost child – escapes family stress by emotional and physical separation; cost is social isolation;

Family Mascot – diverts attention from the addict by humor; cost is immaturity and/or emotional illness.

Family members learn “addictive logic” to deny the chaos.  They learn to lie and say the problem doesn’t exist so as not to betray the family.  To survive in an addictive system, children learn to deny healthy responses that tell them they are in danger; they have to keep increasing these dishonest coping skills as their situation worsens.  Also, a torrent of negative thoughts may be coursing through children’s innocent minds:  “I can’t do anything right; I am a failure; I’m not loved; I will be abandoned; I am ugly and bad…etc.”  They desperately need someone to tell them these are lies and help them see the truth about themselves and their families.

*The Spouses — Being married to an addict can be like a ride on a roller coaster – terrifying.  Life is chaotic and unpredictable, up one day, down the next, depending on how the spouse is behaving.  Emotions fluctuate and are mixed.  The dry period, when life is on the upside, inspires hope that it will last, along with nagging fear that it won’t.  In cases of spousal abuse, the cycle is well documented:  abuse followed by remorse followed by forgiveness followed by abuse followed by remorse, and so on.  The same happens in addictive marriages:  The husband manifests an addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober and pleads for forgiveness.  The wife forgives, and the two are reconciled.  The husband manifests the addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober, and on and on.  The spouse will probably be experiencing many of the same emotions as the children – fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, and the like.  Some will hate their husband or wife, their bitterness created out of years of broken promises and neglect.  Spouses will also blame themselves for their partner’s problem.  Shame too can be intense.  And to cover his or her embarrassment, the husband or wife of the troubled person will strive hard to make a contribution outside the home.  He or she may be driven to succeed in the workplace.  Some will devote themselves to social work or church ministry.  The marriage relationship will deteriorate.  Feelings of love that were likely present in the beginning of the marriage will slowly die as the partner’s addiction progresses.

Three of the most important marital resources – respect, reciprocity, and reliability – will be challenged.  Respect involves conveying to another person (through words, deeds, or simply being present) that the other is of value.  By their irresponsible behavior and neglect of family duties, addicts and the like will not be likely to keep this resource in their relationship.  Reciprocity in relationships refers to the balance of giving and receiving care and consideration.  Not much fairness will be felt in a dysfunctional family where the weight of maintaining the family falls on the addict’s spouse and/or children.  Reliability refers to the expectation that the person will be there for us on an ongoing, fairly consistent basis.  Broken promises and no-shows will destroy this resource.  An addiction, like any other violation of the relationship bond, will chip away at trust.  People married to the addiction/compulsive behavior often convey to their partners that they are not important.  This deterioration of the marriage and emotional struggles of the spouse will sometimes diminish his or her capacity to parent.  Sometimes the spouse, wrestling with the partner’s addiction/behavior, will dump his or her responsibilities on the children.  Because of this neglect, some adult children are angry at the spouse of their addictive/compulsive parent more than they are the one with the addiction/compulsion.

*The Role of Codependency — Codependency is another form of enmeshment.  The spouse of the troubled individual is referred to as the “co-addict.”  This can be described as one person’s addictive patterns aligning themselves with another’s so that there is some degree of systemic collusion or addictive pattern.  Essentially, a codependent is related to another in an unhealthy way.  One person cares so completely for the other that he or she neglects himself or herself, living almost entirely for the other person.  Being an enabler is sometimes part of such a relationship.  Enablers don’t usually consciously do things to help their partner continue his or her destructive behavior.  In fact they will probably attack their partner’s problem with a vengeance, doing everything possible to get him or her to straighten out. Yet, at the same time, they will do things that facilitate their spouse’s behavior.  For example, they will protect their spouse from the consequences of his or her actions:  phoning his boss to report him sick when he can’t go to work because of the addictive behavior; giving money to a wife who has a money related addictive problem; making excuses to the kids for a parent’s absence, and so on.  Then, too, the partners contribute to the addicts’ problem by facilitating the reorganization of the family around them.  Children, too, can play the role of codependent.

Codependents sacrifice unnecessarily and to the detriment of others as well as themselves.  Following Jesus’ example, Christians are encouraged to make sacrifices, but they are not to make senseless ones.  Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself benefited others.  But the codependent’s sacrifices are harmful to the one for whom they are made.  It is not really loving.  Love, as conceived in the New Testament, is concern and care for a person’s highest good.  Preventing an addicted/compulsive spouse from suffering their own consequences is not showing this type of concern and care.  This troubled spouse needs to see the results of his/her lifestyle and choices.  As Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”  Love is sometimes expressed by not doing something for someone.  Also, codependents need to understand that it is not wrong to care for themselves.  As indicated in Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 19:19, we are commanded to respect others as we respect ourselves.

Some write that codependency is defined as “a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  By this, they mean that people who live in enmeshed families develop a tendency to live this way in general, even with people outside the family.  Symptoms include the following:

* Thoughts and attitudes dominated by the other person: “I think more about your life than mine.”

* Self-esteem related to the other person: “I value your opinion more than my own; I need to help you in order to feel good about myself; I need to be needed.”

* Emotions are tied to the other person: “When you are hurting, I often react more deeply than you do.”

* Interests geared to the other person: “I know more clearly what you want than what I want.”

* Relationship to others is affected by the other person: “I neglect my friends to get overly involved in fixing you; I am compulsive about pleasing others, yet I get upset by their demands on me.”

In selecting a mate, some men and women seem to be attracted to a person who needs their care.  Besides the obvious shortcomings, one major problem of this type of relationship is the powerful dependence these partners have on each other.  They become so enmeshed that they seem unable to function as individuals.  They become so intertwined that it becomes difficult for the other to leave the relationship regardless of how dysfunctional it is.  Codependents will have considerable psychological distress.  They will suffer from poor self-esteem, since they may feel little worth apart from what is derived from rescuing others.  They will also suffer from an extreme need to be needed, making them depressed when they feel they are not.  Also they may have an unhealthy willingness to suffer, somehow believing that suffering for someone will make that person love them; being a martyr will make them feel rewarded.

Despite codependents’ sorry state of affairs, they will have a strong resistance to change.  Leaving the troubled spouse, even as a step toward healing, accountability, and re-creation of the marriage,  is not an option, because they fear feeling guilty, living alone, or not being able to make it financially.

In conclusion, when we or our families experience trouble, we must call upon the Divine weapons and resources that God has provided us.  We must remember that we cannot face the vast array of past and present problems on our own. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord since we don’t know how to deal with these things (2 Chron 20:12b).  He has the willingness and power to do the impossible, demolish the past and present strongholds that have enslaved us, and make us to be who He created us to be (Phil 2:12; Luke 1:37; 2 Cor 10:3-5).

Jesus Controls My Chaos

Editor’s Note:  Even as Jesus is able to set the boundaries of the Earth’s seas and control their fury, He is able to wisely and compassionately set limits on and control the chaos, destruction, and fury of life’s storms that affect each one of us.

Jesus Stills the Storm

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul/Ligonier Ministries

“The men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (v. 27).  – Matthew 8:23–27

Having explained the cost of discipleship to two would-be followers, Jesus and His disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23). Little do the disciples know that this journey will give their teacher an opportunity to show forth His identity in a way they have not yet seen.

Because of its geographical location, violent squalls frequently occur on the open water of the Sea of Galilee, especially in the period between May and October. Seasoned fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John (4:18–22) are certainly familiar with such storms, and so their fear, evident in Matthew 8:24–27, shows that the turbulence in which they find themselves is unusually fierce.

However, despite the storm’s ferocity, Jesus is able to sleep peacefully as the boat traverses the waves. This indicates His great trust in God and comfort in His faithful obedience because the Old Testament understands sound sleep to be a gift from God to His holy people (Lev. 26:6).

Christ’s ability to sleep in the storm is more remarkable when we consider that the boat in which His company is traveling is the customary fishing boat of His day, just big enough to accommodate the small group of men and a large catch of fish. The sailors are completely exposed to the elements. Jesus is not worried like the others even though He feels the storm’s effects no less than they do.

Yet Jesus’ command of the storm tells us about much more than His great faith.

In the biblical worldview, the sea and the storm are associated with chaos and destruction (Ps. 69:1–2). Only God can control the sea, and in fact, He sets its boundary and stills its fury (Job 38:8–11). That Jesus is able to silence the storm and still the waves indicates that He possesses an authority equal to the Creator’s (Matt. 8:26–27). The disciples marvel at this miracle because it is evidence that their beloved rabbi is more than just a teacher; He is in fact God Almighty.

John Chrysostom writes that “[Jesus’] sleeping showed he was a man. His calming of the seas declared him God” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 28.1).

We put our lives in Jesus’ hands based on the evidence of His power. Today’s passage shows us that we can trust Him because He has authority over all nature and is worthy of our faith since He is the incarnate God over all creation. We follow the Creator of all things, not merely a good man. Take time today to review biblical teaching on the divinity of Christ (for example, John 1:1–18) so that you may be confident that your trust in Him will never be in vain.

Two Traps to Avoid: “If Only” and “What If?”

SOURCE:  Susan Yates

When these issues dominate my thoughts, I succumb to selfishness and fear.

In each season of my life, I’ve found myself falling into two mental traps which are not helpful. One is the “If only” syndrome, and the other is the “What if?” syndrome.

Here’s how “If only” might express itself:

  • “If only I had a husband.”
  • “If only I had more money.”
  • “If only my husband would act like…”
  • “If only my husband (or I) had a good job.”
  • “If only we had a different house.”
  • “If only my parents (or his) understood.”
  • “If only my child would sleep through the night.”
  • “If only I had a really close friend.”
  • “If only I didn’t come from such a wounded past.”
  • “If only I wasn’t stuck in this place.”
  • “If only I was free of this disease.”
  • “If only I knew how to handle my teen.”
  • “If only I didn’t have to do this.”
  • “If only I didn’t struggle with this.”

Can you identify? You can probably add to this list yourself. Over the years I’ve realized that these thoughts merely lead me into a real case of self-pity. At the core of what I’m expressing is: “Life is about me and my happiness.” I have a bucket that needs to be filled.

But the reality is that even if the desire for one “If only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the list. Too often I get myself into this mindset without even realizing it. And it sinks me into a bad mood or a feeling of being depressed. The focus is on me, and I need to confess this selfishness and ask God to forgive me and to enable me to focus on Him and on others. And I need to ask Him to give me a grateful heart.

The other trap is “What if?”:

  • “What if I can’t get pregnant?”
  • “What if my husband leaves me?”
  • “What if I don’t get this raise?”
  • “What if I can’t complete this project?”
  • “What if we lose the election?”
  • “What if the medical tests bring bad news?”
  • “What if my child doesn’t make the team?”
  • “What if I fail?”

This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “What if” comes true. And this can be a paralyzing fear.

The “What if” syndrome is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination—we are often visionaries; we are creative. We tend to have this weakness, however: We can create the worst-case scenario in our imagination in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.

What’s at the core of this attitude? I fail to believe that God is in control. My “What if” has become bigger than my God. I have temporarily forgotten that He is loving, He is kind, He is present, He is good, and He will never, ever forsake me.

I can give Him my “What if”—He can handle it. He will sustain me.

Underlying the “If only” and “What if” syndromes is an expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. We may recognize that’s not realistic, but too often we live with that expectation in our thought life without even realizing it.

We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.

Today, what is your “If only…”? What is your “What if”?

Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).

Begin to say His traits out loud: “You are my Father, You go before me. You prepare a way for me. You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.”

This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.

Why God Gives Us More Than We Can Handle

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The next time someone says that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, point them to Judges 7. God’s instructing Gideon to take on over 100,000 enemy soldiers with just 300 fits in the “more than you can handle” category. Imagine how Gideon and his servant, Purah, must have felt trying to come to grips with a humanly impossible assignment.

Standing on the side of Mount Gilboa, Gideon gazed over the Valley of Jezreel, which sprawled beneath him northward toward the hill of Moreh. The valley was a sea of tents, teeming with more than 100,000 Midian warriors.

That morning, the Lord had judged Israel’s army of 32,000 too big to face Midian’s. Israel would think more highly of himself than he ought to think when God gave him victory. So Gideon had sent home whoever was afraid. When 22,000 hit the road, Gideon had to quiet his own fear. Now Israel was outnumbered ten-to-one. But God was with them and armies had overcome such odds before.

Oddly, the Lord considered these odds still too much in Israel’s favor. So in obedience to the Lord’s instruction, Gideon brought his small, thirsty army down to the spring of Harod. And he gave his servant, Purah, the strangest command of his brief military career: “Observe all the men as they drink. Have every man who laps his water like a dog stand off to the side.”

Gideon supervised the selection, but when so few were being chosen, he just let Purah finish the count and he climbed back up Gilboa to pray and survey.

It wasn’t long before Purah emerged from the trees. “So what’s the total?”

“Three hundred, sir,” said Purah.

Gideon chuckled to himself. “Three hundred.” He looked back toward the human hoard in the valley and was quiet for a moment. “That’s less than I expected.”

“Yes, sir,” said Purah. “But thankfully, three hundred doesn’t reduce our strength much.”

Gideon breathed deeply. “No, Purah. The three hundred are not the reductions. They’re the army. The others are the reductions.”

Purah stood dazed for a moment, staring at Gideon. “The three hundred are the army?”

Gideon nodded slowly, still looking into the Midian-infested Jezreel.

“But that’s not an army! That’s how many should be guarding an army’s baggage!”

Purah stepped up beside Gideon. Together they watched smoke columns rising from ten times more cooking fires than they now had warriors. Purah shook his head and said, “Even if we were all like the mighty men of old, three hundred could not overcome 100,000.” He paused. “And we aren’t mighty men.” Another pause. “And there’s more than a 100,000 down there.”

Both were silent for a while. In the quiet, the Lord spoke to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.

Then Gideon said to Purah, “During the exodus, how many mighty men did it take to destroy Egypt and its army or part the Red Sea?”

Purah thought briefly. “None.”

“How many did it take to tear down Jericho’s walls?”

“None.”

“How many did it take to feed two million of our people in the wilderness every day for forty years?”

“None. I get your point.”

“The mightiest are those who trust in the Lord and obey him, no matter how impossible things appear.”

“In our people’s history, the mightiest have not been the strong warriors,” Gideon said. “The mightiest have been those who trusted in the Lord and obeyed him, no matter how impossible things appeared. He has promised us that Midian will be defeated. He has chosen only three hundred of us. We will obey; he will act. And when Midian falls, it will be clear to everyone who felled him.” Then he looked at Purah and smiled. “Maybe the Lord just needs us to guard his baggage!”

Purah didn’t laugh. He only replied, “Should we dismiss the others?” Gideon nodded.

Later that night, in the tiny camp, Gideon lay praying. Every plan to mobilize 300 against 100,000 seemed ludicrous.

Suddenly, he was aware of the Presence. He sat up, his heart beating fast.

The Lord said, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.

Purah woke to Gideon’s nudge and whispered words, “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” Purah whispered back, getting up quickly.

“To the Midian camp, just you and me. The Lord has something he wants to show us.”

They quietly crept toward the nearest Midian outpost, veiled by the clouded sky, and saw two inattentive guards talking. Just as they got within earshot, one said, “I had a strange dream before being woken for duty tonight.”

“Tell me,” the other said.

“This cake of barley came tumbling into our camp, crashed into the tent, turned it over, and flattened it.”

The other guard looked at him alarmed and said, “I know what that means! The cake can be none other than Gideon, the son of Joash! God has given us all into his hand!”

Gideon and Purah looked at one another with the same stunned expression.

Cast Your Cares

With renewed faith, Gideon and Purah roused their mini army and launched a night attack. This threw the Midians into a panic and they slaughtered each other in confusion. It was a rout. Not one of Gideon’s three hundred perished in the battle. God gave them more than they could handle to force them to rely wholly on him.

“God gives us more than we can handle to force us to rely wholly on him.”

When we’re confronted with an impossible situation or trial, Gideon’s three hundred preach to us that “salvation . . . is from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39) and “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). These are no domesticated platitudes. God really intends for us to cast our all on these massive truths and for them to give us more-than-conquerors confidence and peace (Romans 8:37), no matter what we face.

It is not hyperbole to say that the defeat of our sin that Jesus accomplished on the cross dwarfs Gideon’s victory. Compared to overcoming God’s wrath against our sin, defeating 100,000 Midianites was very small. And if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?

God certainly does give us more than we can handle. And he does it “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). If you’re facing some overwhelming adversary or adversity and you wonder how God could possibly deliver and work it for your good (Romans 8:28), then take heart. He is granting you the joy of experiencing the reality of Judges 7, Romans 8, and 2 Corinthians 1.

Anxiety: How to stop catastrophizing – an expert’s guide

SOURCE:  Linda Blair/Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist suggests a three-pronged plan for tackling anxiety and approaching each day logically and positively

Let us start by considering why some people catastrophize – that is, on hearing uncertain news, they imagine the worst possible outcome. After all, it is not uncommon and those who catastrophize seem to do it a lot.

Catastrophizers tend to be fairly anxious people. Whether this characteristic is principally genetic or more the result of learning is unknown. High levels of anxiety are extremely unpleasant, so we look for ways to discharge those unpleasant feelings as quickly as possible. If a catastrophizer is told something inconclusive – for example, if they go to a GP and are asked to have tests – they look for a way to feel in control again immediately. They learn to choose the worst possible outcome because it allows for the greatest sense of relief when they are reassured.

Considering all possibilities is not a bad strategy if you examine them logically. However, unable to bear their distress, catastrophisers rush to external sources to calm themselves down: checking whether anyone else has “come through” the same problem; matching symptoms online to obtain a diagnosis and treatment options; asking a professional to tell them that they will survive. Once they are reassured, they feel better – in psychological jargon, they have “rewarded” this seeking behaviour. The next time they feel uncertain or threatened, they will ratchet up their anxiety with a catastrophic thought, then look outwards for reassurance even faster than before. In this way, catastrophising soon becomes a well-entrenched habit. The greatest problem with seeking others to alleviate anxiety is that it offers only temporary relief. There is always another source to check or another opinion to be had; as a result, catastrophisers feel anxious again increasingly quickly. The only way to break this cycle is to tame anxiety. After this, you can still seek advice. So, if you are a catastrophiser and you would rather not be, how do you go about making changes?

Accept yourself. Anxiety is energy: if you are an anxious person, celebrate! However, why waste that energy feeling uncomfortable and preparing yourself for circumstances that will almost certainly never occur? Look for enjoyable ways to challenge yourself and use your energy more positively: taking regular aerobic exercise; learning something new; taking up a creative passion.

Take control. Establish a regular “worry time”. Start by setting aside half an hour every day. Write down all your concerns in specific terms. For example: “I felt nauseated this morning. Do I have stomach cancer?” Assign a score on a scale of 0 to 100% to estimate how distressed this possibility makes you feel. Next, list all the possible explanations for your concern, then rank each one according to how likely it is to be correct. Make use of external sources if necessary, but stick with reputable websites and professionals. Finally, score your worry for the level of distress it is causing you now. Gradually, you will be able to reduce the amount and frequency of worry time.

Use the “best friend test”. Ask yourself what you would advise your best friend to do about each concern, and take that action.

Learn to self-soothe. Whenever you are overwhelmed by anxiety and feel you must seek reassurance, give yourself permission to do so – but not straight away. Establish an interval before you are allowed to act. Even two minutes is enough at first, because you are still exerting self-control. Breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth, or taking some gentle exercise, will help. Gradually, you will find you can wait longer. When you get to the point where you can wait more than 20 minutes, most people find they no longer need to be reassured by others.

This three-pronged approach – using your “worry energy” to carry out new and enjoyable challenges, approaching your tendency to catastrophize logically and systematically, and learning to wait through discomfort – takes time. But if you invest the necessary time, you will start looking forward to each day knowing you can deal with uncertainty in a more positive, balanced way.

How to Ease the Intensity of a Panic Attack by Practicing Mindfulness

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge Panic attacks can hit you at the most random, inconvenient times without notice or apparent triggers. They can create intense moments that leave you fearful while waiting for the feeling of impending doom to subside.

Solution By observing mindfulness, we can decrease the intensity of a panic attack by allowing anxiety to run is course without shaming ourselves or suppressing our feelings.

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The feeling struck while I was driving down the interstate to an appointment. My muscles tightened and encapsulated me. My breath became short and my head started spinning. The cadence of my heartbeat increased while my hands clinched the leather on my steering wheel.

“This is it,” I told myself. “I’m really dying this time.”

This time, right? This wasn’t just the result of some fabricated paranoia. These symptoms were real.

I could feel my throat start to close, and I was convinced I was going to suffocate and pass out. The feeling intensified as I realized I could seriously injure myself or another person if it happened while I was driving, so I pulled over at the nearest exit.

The mystery of a panic attack can create enough anxiety to actually trigger one. The phenomenon has been studied for decades and has been loosely explained through theories of evolution, genetics and the fight-flight-freeze response. Preventing them from occurring, however, has been a trial-and-error process and one person’s remedy doesn’t always work for another.

Though we’re not operating in the rational parts of our brain during a panic attack, exercising mindfulness could make a difference in its intensity. Give these exercises a try.

1. Embrace what’s happening.

The physical symptoms you’re experiencing are the result of your body trying to protect itself. (This, of course, is assuming you’ve been cleared of any pre-existing conditions from your doctor.) When the fight-flight-freeze response is active in your brain during a panic attack, it sends messages to different parts of the body to respond to the perceived danger you’re processing.

2. Focus on your breathing pattern.

There are different variations of doing this, but here’s what works for me. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4-6 seconds, and then exhale for 4 seconds. Do this as many times as you need to. The idea here is to focus on your breath and to return a normal oxygen flow to parts of your brain and body.

3. Eat a mint or chew some gum.

The stronger the scent, the better. The taste overloads your senses and takes away the intensity of what you’re experiencing.

4. Stop shaming yourself.

You may find yourself embarrassed in how you’re responding to external stimuli while your body and mind endure the downward spiral of panic. Allow yourself to honor how you’re feeling, recognize what’s happening and to get through the experience. Attempts to suppress these things could make the anxiety worse.

5. Don’t ask “Why?”

Asking yourself, “Why?” is not a question that comes from the rational part of your mind. It comes from the proverbial heart or your gut. The answer to “Why” takes you down the rabbit hole of “What-ifs” that won’t give you the answers to relief.

Mindfulness means we give ourselves permission to accept our thoughts, feelings and experiences without judgment and shame. It opens our attention to what’s happening in the present. When we embrace the physical symptoms of a panic attack, it sends a message to the amygdala, almost as if it were to say, “Hey, I know what this is. I’ve experienced it before and everything will eventually be ok.” Give yourself permission to let anxiety run its course and acknowledge how you feel when it happens. Practicing mindfulness at the onset of a panic attack allows you to make the necessary connections that ease the anxiety efficiently.

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Dennis and Barbara Rainey/ Family Life Ministry

Concerned about economic, political, racial, and moral instability in our culture?  Disheartened by struggles in your personal life?  Here’s what to focus on when the ground shakes beneath your feet.

Dealing with the hardships of life

Life will never be easy. We will always face problems and hardship. That would be true even if our culture felt more stable than it does today, for the Scriptures promise us, “In the world you shall have tribulation.”

So how will we deal with loss, with grief, with fear, with suffering? How do we respond when things don’t go our way? And how do we teach our children to face the hardships of life?

Christians today need to know more about God, more about ourselves, and more about the mission God has given us. Here are seven things to remember:

1. God is alive. He has not disappeared. He is eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, just as He has been from the beginning of time. As Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “… The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

2. God never changes. Psalm 90 (KJV) begins, “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations … even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the following verses in the enduring hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” They remind us that our fears, though circumstantially different than his in ages past, are still the same:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

We all fear the loss of life, health, freedom, and peace. We fear the unknown future. But do you know who will be with us? Jesus, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

3. God offers eternal life. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. You are a child of God, and as Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is encouraging.

4. God has won the battle. He has defeated death. History will culminate in Christ’s return. No matter what we experience in the world, we can find peace in Him. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

5. God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything going on in the world, or in your life. He is the sovereign, omnipotent King of kings. Even in times of uncertainty and chaos, Romans 8:28 (NASB) is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

6. God will provide for your needs. Especially in times of economic uncertainty it’s easy to grow anxious about the most basic things, like whether we will keep our jobs, or whether our families will have enough to eat. But in Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us we should not be worried about what we eat, or what we will wear:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 

7. God has given us good works to do. Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. We’re concerned about God using us to reach and influence others with the gospel. That’s what life is really about.

Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. Have you considered that your best opportunities to fulfill this role—to represent Christ and His Kingdom—may come in times like these when so many need help and encouragement?

Consider this: If you are feeling troubled by the instability in our world, then many of the people you encounter each day are concerned and fearful as well. What makes you different is that you have a firm foundation in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to shine. If you have built your home on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27), you will remain unshaken. That in itself is a witness to the watching world that there is something different about Christians. And if you then reach out to help others who struggle without that foundation, that makes you rare indeed.

When life feels insecure and unstable, focus on these timeless truths. Read the never-changing Word of God with your spouse and to your children.  No matter what troubles we are experiencing in our world and in our families, He is in control. He will not abandon us. He will provide for us. This may look different than you expect, but His promises have not expired in the 21st century.

In Denial? Not Me!

SOURCE:  

Helping people who deny their faults

Jane was at her wit’s end as she listened yet again to her husband scolding their son about his less than desirable work habits. The squabbles between the two males in her life were frequent and seemed to be escalating in intensity.

Waiting for the right moment, she spoke diplomatically, “John, I’m concerned about the harshness of your exchanges with Jerome. You actually have a valid message to convey, but when you yell and insult, it creates more problems than it solves. Would you be willing to tone it down and model a more constructive way?”

Lips pursed, John shot back, “I’m not the problem here! That kid has an attitude, and someone needs to teach him that he can’t get away with chronic irresponsibility.”

“I understand the point you’re making about Jerome’s attitude,” Jane replied, “and I’m committed to working with you in that regard. It’s your communication style I’m trying to address. No matter how correct your ideas are, he won’t listen as long as you are belittling.”

“I’m not belittling him. You need to get off my back and show me some support! I’m tired of being made out as the bad guy!” With that, he huffed off into another room, slamming the door behind him as Jane sat silent, nursing a very familiar sinking feeling in her gut.

What was going on with John? Why was it so difficult to hear his wife’s concerns? Clearly he was so emotionally rattled that self-protection had overtaken his persona, and denial was his way of making himself seem less exposed. He felt so threatened by his wife’s attempted guidance that he could not pause to consider her common sense. Even if she had been wrong in what she was saying, how hard would it have been for him to simply reply, “I’ll certainly consider what you’re telling me”?

The number one trait hindering personal improvement is denial. Simply put, no one can grow or mature without first acknowledging the need. Those in denial guarantee that their dark side wins and relationships falter.

People in frequent denial show themselves to be driven by fear. They fear looking foolish. They fear being controlled. They fear losing. They fear being dismissed. But the crazy thing about denial is that when it is in full force, those very fears become true. They look foolish, they are under the control of others, they lose, and they are readily dismissed … every time.

Do you know people who use denial? Or more importantly, do you ever go into denial? Admit it. We each hate being exposed as inadequate, and none of us is fond of eating humble pie. So as a matter of self-protection it’s easier to say the problem doesn’t exist, then we cleverly flip the focus back onto the confronter, putting that person into a backpedaling mode.

Let’s begin breaking down this defense mechanism with a major acknowledgment: denial is a colossal waste of emotional and communicational energy. It thrusts the relationship into an adversarial mode that serves no healthy function. Invalidating another’s perceptions removes the possibility of learning anything new or challenging.

When I counsel individuals using denial, there are several themes I emphasize:

  1. Listening is an incredibly rewarding exercise. A person has to train his mind to actually hear the essence of the other’s message. But when he does, he affirms that person as he also opens the possibility of learning. The counselee may be quite surprised to learn how his influence increases when he proactively chooses to hear with no rebuttal. You can also point out that listening is prudent and the Bible says that those who don’t listen before responding are unwise (Prov. 18:2, 13).
  2. Absorbing unflattering feedback requires emotional maturity. Though it may seem counterintuitive to the counselee, a person illustrates inner weakness as he insists upon appearing strong, but he displays inner strength as he shows a willingness to examine his weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
  3. All individuals have blind spots relative to their personalities. Hearing separate perceptions increases the potential for diminishing those blind spots. In 1 John 1:8 the Bible warns people who say they have no sin: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And God encourages us to be diligent in examining ourselves for areas (blind spots) in our lives we need to confess and repent of (Matt. 7:5; 1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5).
  4. Removing denial diminishes the propensity toward aggressive anger. This kind of anger is built upon the need to build one’s status by tearing down the other’s legitimacy (Eph. 4:29, 31–32; 1 Pet. 2:1–2).
  5. No one ever completes the personal growth plan.
    Humility leads each of us to conclude that just when we think we have life figured out, something happens to remind us of our fallibility. Encourage the counselee that the Bible says we all make mistakes; no one is without fault (Prov. 20:9; Rom. 3:23; James 3:2), yet God still loves us, and that is why He sent Jesus.
  6. The best relationships practice mutual accountability.
    As we lovingly discuss needs, interpretations, and preferences with each other, we form bonds of unity and helpfulness (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Pet. 3:8).

When you drop denial in favor of careful listening, the worst that could happen is that the information given may not prove helpful. Okay, that’s not so awful. The best that can happen is that we mature and become more capable as loving companions. Who knows, you may even become bold enough to ask a confronter, “Is there anything else you’d like me to consider?”

An Affair Does Not Have to Mean the End

SOURCE:  Carrie Cole M.Ed., LPC/The Gottman Institute

Ralph and Susan had been married for 13 years with two adorable children. Their suburban life was packed with work, school, and the kids’ extra-curricular activities. Neither made their marriage a priority, but overall they felt their relationship was good.

Susan withheld her suspicion when she noticed that Ralph was on his phone more than usual. At times she couldn’t help but ask “What’s going on?” only to receive “Nothing. Just checking the news,” or “There’s a lot of drama at the office that I need to take care of.” She trusted him.

When Susan discovered that Ralph had been texting another woman, she was devastated. Her world came crashing down. In her mind, Ralph was not the kind of person to ever have an affair.

Ralph lied about it at first. He felt like he needed to protect Susan from the ugly truth. But as more evidence came out, he couldn’t lie anymore. He was having an affair.

He didn’t know how he had got involved so deeply with someone else. It just happened. He and a co-worker had become close friends over time. It felt good to have someone to talk to who listened and made him feel special. He hadn’t had that in a long time with Susan.

During the affair he had to convince himself that Susan didn’t care. He felt she wasn’t interested in him sexually anymore. They were more like roommates than soulmates.

As a Certified Gottman Therapist, I have heard many versions of this story in my couples therapy practice over the last 15 years. An affair, whether emotional or sexual, is devastating. Both partners suffer tremendous pain. But an affair does not have to mean the end.

The PTSD of an Affair

The betrayed partner experiences a tidal wave of emotion. The pain, hurt, anger, humiliation, and despair are overwhelming. After the traumatic moment the affair is realized, they become fearful, anxious, and hypervigilant, wondering where or when the next blow is going to come – not unlike symptoms of PTSD felt by military veterans.

Their mind races with thoughts of What don’t they know? What’s the whole story? Scenes of their partner with someone else appear in their mind when awake and when asleep, making life a living nightmare.

The Guilt of Betrayal

The betrayer also experiences a great deal of emotion. The hopeless feeling of witnessing your partner in pain and knowing you can do nothing to alleviate their suffering is a horrible experience. The feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation are almost unbearable.

So, what causes an affair? Why do partners choose to cheat? The answers are complicated and may take months to unravel.

Recovering From an Affair

Is it possible to recover from an affair? The answer for most couples is yes.

Many couples I’ve worked with have actually created a stronger, more emotionally connected, and richer relationship from the ashes of an affair. However, it’s not quick or easy. As with any serious injury, it takes time to heal. And it usually takes therapy.

It’s tempting to think that it will automatically get better with time. The problem with “sweeping it under the rug” is that the anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt felt early on by the betrayed person often give way to resentment – a slow seething anger that leads to total contempt for the betrayer. Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that contempt is deadly in relationships and very difficult to recover from.

Couples therapy can help partners explore and understand what happened. The betrayed partner needs to have their questions answered, such as:

  • When did you meet?
  • Where did you meet?
  • How long did the affair last?

The betrayed partner attempts to understand how it happened and how they can prevent it from happening again. They also seek consistency in the stories from one telling to the next. Do I know everything? Are you lying to me now? These questions are best asked and answered in the emotionally safe environment of a therapist’s office.

It is best not to ask questions about the specifics of the sexual nature of the affair. Those questions usually do more bad than good in that they conjure up images that might haunt the betrayed partner’s thoughts.

When the betrayed partner feels that they have all the answers they need, the couple can begin to work on rebuilding trust. Couples like Susan and Ralph have turned away from each other in many small ways over time, which compounds into the feelings that ultimately led Ralph astray. They neglected the relationship.

Once couples process what happened, they need to begin to tune back into each other. Susan and Ralph found that they avoided each other to avoid conflict. Tuning back in requires dialoguing about problems – both ongoing perpetual problems and past issues that might have caused some injury to the relationship.

Recognize That Conflict is Inevitable

Conflict is a natural part of your happily ever after. Every relationship has conflict due to different values, beliefs, and philosophies of life. When these differences are discussed safely, and when honored and respected, the couple will experience greater intimacy. At times this can feel uncomfortable and take some push and pull. Communication skills provided by a therapist can help the navigation of these discussions go more smoothly.

Once the couple has tuned back into each other, it will be helpful to create some meaningful rituals to stay connected. Couples can be creative about ways to do that which are special and unique to them. One couple I worked with decided to have morning coffee together for 30 minutes. They would discuss the events of the day, check in with each other emotionally, and take the time to really listen to each other’s hearts.

Another couple developed a ritual of a bubble bath after the kids were in bed. They said they did their best talking in their big round Jacuzzi tub.

Sexual and emotional betrayals are a hefty blow to a relationship, but an affair does not have to be the end. Couples who have the emotional fortitude to reach out and seek the help they need can create a much more meaningful and intimate relationship in the aftermath of infidelity.

 

6 Little-Known Signs of Depression in Older Adults

SOURCE:  Kristen Sturt

Depression affects over two million people 65-plus; learn how to identify the signs, and how to get help.

Your husband might be depressed, and you might not know it. Or, maybe it’s your sister or your mother.

Maybe it’s even you.

Even though upwards of two million Americans age 65-plus experience depression, the majority of seniors—68 percent, according to a National Mental Health Association survey—know little about it. One big reason is that signs are easy to overlook, since they’re frequently confused with other ailments and changes that come naturally with aging.

“Often in older adults, when they’re depressed, you don’t see high levels of crying and sadness you might see in a younger adult,” says Dr. Sarah Yarry, Ph.D., a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in gerontology. “You see it more often as withdrawal. It’s apathy, hopelessness, loss of appetite and interest.” Older adults regularly demonstrate physical symptoms, as well—particularly aches and pains—and when they’re not addressed along with the underlying neurological issues, depression is more likely to linger, and more likely to come back.

Depression comes with serious personal costs, too: It’s correlated with a higher risk of dying early from certain illnesses and is a major factor in suicides. That’s why it’s imperative to recognize the signs—even the lesser-known ones—before it’s too late. Here, then, are some common, but little-known indications of depression in older adults.

1. Joint and back pain

As we age, some pain is to be expected, and it doesn’t have to come with depression. That said, the connection between pain and depression can’t be ignored—especially if the pain is chronic, meaning it lasts more than a few months. Back aches and joint pain are commonly reported signs. One 2015 study in the journal Arthritis even found that about 12 percent of those with hip or knee osteoarthritis were depressed, versus about 6.6 percent of the general population. What’s more, “each additional symptomatic joint was associated with a 19 percent increase in the odds of self-reported depression.” Research shows that pain and depression is a chicken-egg scenario, too; the discomfort contributes to the depression, which can then intensify the agony. Physically painful illnesses, from stroke to multiple sclerosis, can exacerbate depression, too.

2. Cognitive impairment

While our mental abilities are expected to decline somewhat with age, depression can do a number on memory, focus, attentiveness, and even speech and movement. In fact, one small 2004 study found that more than half of participants suffering from late-life depression had significant problems with processing information and executive function (decision making, reason, etc.).

This mental cloudiness is frequently confused with dementia. As opposed to a degenerative condition like Alzheimer’s, however, “The confusion comes from lack of energy and apathy,” says Dr. Yarry. “It takes so much effort with them because they’re depressed.” This makes diagnosis crucial, since treating depression can improve sharpness.

3. Chest pain

Heart disease and depression often go hand in hand; depressed people show more signs of coronary illness, and people suffering from coronary illness are more likely to be depressed. Two recent studies support this:

  • A 2010 study in Heart Views found that chest pain patients demonstrated “more than triple” the rate of depression of the general population.
  • A 2015 study found that newly depressed angina patients “reported more angina and physical limitations” than those who were not depressed.

Depression apparently makes surviving coronary disease more difficult, too; depressed heart failure patients, for example, are four times as likely to die early. Part of this may be chemical, part if it is because depressed people may be less motivated to take good care of themselves. Either way, chest pain like angina can be an indicator of depression.

4. Irritability

In addition to melancholy, older adults suffering from depression may express grouchiness, increased anger, or even open hostility, all of which can be magnified by the use of alcohol (also tied to depression). Part of the reason for this is cultural. “It’s more appropriate to express depression as irritability rather than sadness, because that’s what’s acceptable in that generation,” says Dr. Yarry. “It’s the accepted way of expressing emotion.” Other feelings that might indicate depression: Increased fear, anxiety, guilt, and loss of hope.

5. Headaches

Though it’s not widely known, there’s a strong, long-established tie between senior depression and headaches. For example, in 1999, the journal Pain published a survey of 1,421 Chinese seniors that found those with frequent, severe, or migraine headaches were likelier to be depressed. Migraines are especially correlative; a 2008 study of migraine patients aged 50-plus discovered that nearly half showed “mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms.”  Like joint and chest pain, depression may exacerbate headaches, while headaches can contribute to depression.

6. Gastrointestinal issues

As we age, we internalize our psychological issues in more ways than one, and depression may have some pretty serious effects on our guts. Nausea, constipation, and digestive problems are common, as are appetite and weight changes. Depressed older adults may drop pounds and slow their eating overall, though some may go the other direction and gain weight, too.

If you suspect someone you know is suffering from depression—or you, yourself are experiencing symptoms—see a medical professional as soon as possible. “Bring them to a family doctor and get an evaluation,” says Dr. Yarry, who also suggests seeing a mental health expert whose focus is in treating older people. “Talk to a geriatric psychologist that specializes in depression issues.”

For more information about depression and older adults, consult one of these resources—and remember that there’s always help.

 

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Family Life/Dennis – Barbara Rainey

Concerned about economic, political, racial, and moral instability in our culture?  Disheartened by struggles in your personal life?  Here’s what to focus on when the ground shakes beneath your feet.

Years ago our family of eight and some dear friends of ours with their two kids vacationed in a small condo on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It was a beautiful setting and a wonderful time for our families, but one night we were introduced to an experience that Southern Californians face regularly.

At 2 a.m. we awoke to a boom that made us think a truck had hit the building. Then we noticed that everything was shaking. We jumped out of bed and hurried to the living room where all our children were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. The chandelier over the dining room table was swinging.

It was an earthquake—not very large, but very unsettling. We felt disoriented and confused. We wondered how long it would last and what we should do. The earth is supposed to be steady and solid, and now it wasn’t. When it finally stopped we couldn’t go back to sleep for hours because our fears had been awakened and our security threatened.

Unsettling times

Does our experience describe how you have felt recently? Many Americans have felt shaken by economic instability, racial conflict, mass shootings, and terrorist threats in recent years. Even the current political races have left us feeling anxious, troubled, disoriented. We wonder what to do. We feel afraid as the ground shakes beneath our feet.

Many followers of Christ feel just as unsettled over the unprecedented transformation in the moral climate of our culture. The world’s views on human sexuality, especially, have changed so quickly that Christians are now labeled as bigots for holding to biblical standards. We don’t know how to act, what to say or not say.

And inside our individual homes, many may be feeling disoriented and disheartened because of illness, hardships, failed relationships, or recent deaths of friends or family. Like a friend of ours who just received a cancer diagnosis—her world has just been shaken. Perhaps your world has been shaken, too.

Our stability

A couple of years ago I (Barbara) was reading through the book of Isaiah, and I came across a passage I had never noticed before. Isaiah 33:5-6 says, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”

I was struck by that phrase in the middle: “and he will be the stability of your times…” At the time our country was experiencing an economic downturn. Everyone in America was feeling the impact.

When life feels insecure and unstable—not just in the world outside but also inside your family—remember that God is ultimately in control. No matter what is happening around you or how unsteady the world feels, He is our sure and stable foundation.

In many ways, America has been a pretty stable country for the last few decades. But it may not continue to be. When you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, it’s good to remember that Jesus is your Rock and your Fortress. He will be the stability of your times.

Dealing with the hardships of life

Life will never be easy. We will always face problems and hardship. That would be true even if our culture felt more stable than it does today, for the Scriptures promise us, “In the world you shall have tribulation.”

So how will we deal with loss, with grief, with fear, with suffering? How do we respond when things don’t go our way? And how do we teach our children to face the hardships of life?

Christians today need to know more about God, more about ourselves, and more about the mission God has given us. Here are seven things to remember:

1. God is alive. He has not disappeared. He is eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, just as He has been from the beginning of time. As Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “… The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

2. God never changes. Psalm 90 (KJV) begins, “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations … even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the following verses in the enduring hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” They remind us that our fears, though circumstantially different than his in ages past, are still the same:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

We all fear the loss of life, health, freedom, and peace. We fear the unknown future. But do you know who will be with us? Jesus, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

3. God offers eternal life. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. You are a child of God, and as Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is encouraging.

4. God has won the battle. He has defeated death. History will culminate in Christ’s return. No matter what we experience in the world, we can find peace in Him. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

5. God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything going on in the world, or in your life. He is the sovereign, omnipotent King of kings. Even in times of uncertainty and chaos, Romans 8:28 (NASB) is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

6. God will provide for your needs. Especially in times of economic uncertainty it’s easy to grow anxious about the most basic things, like whether we will keep our jobs, or whether our families will have enough to eat. But in Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us we should not be worried about what we eat, or what we will wear:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

7. God has given us good works to do. Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. We’re concerned about God using us to reach and influence others with the gospel. That’s what life is really about.

Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. Have you considered that your best opportunities to fulfill this role—to represent Christ and His Kingdom—may come in times like these when so many need help and encouragement?

Consider this: If you are feeling troubled by the instability in our world, then many of the people you encounter each day are concerned and fearful as well. What makes you different is that you have a firm foundation in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to shine. If you have built your home on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27), you will remain unshaken. That in itself is a witness to the watching world that there is something different about Christians. And if you then reach out to help others who struggle without that foundation, that makes you rare indeed.

When life feels insecure and unstable, focus on these timeless truths. Read the never-changing Word of God with your spouse and to your children. No matter what troubles we are experiencing in our world and in our families, He is in control. He will not abandon us. He will provide for us. This may look different than you expect, but His promises have not expired in the 21st century.

Are Manipulators Aware of Being Manipulative?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is It Possible That Spouses Who Manipulate Are Unaware They Are Being Manipulative ?

Question: Is it possible that spouses who manipulate are unaware they are being manipulative? If so, is this because of defense mechanisms or some other emotional void?

Answer: I think every human being has defense mechanisms and emotional voids. If we were capable of being completely healthy and whole individuals we would not need God. And probably 99% of all human beings have tried manipulation. Why? Because it is a very effective way of getting what you want.

A toddler throws a fit in the grocery store because she wants candy. If her mom capitulates because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t want to say no, she’s been manipulated by a two-year-old. And as the two-year-old learns that manipulation works she will do it again the next time she is thwarted from getting what she wants.

If her parents always give into her manipulative tactics her manipulation will increase and she will gain a wide repertoire of manipulative strategies. From throwing a fit, to whining, to saying “I hate you,” to the guilt trip or silent treatment, to badgering, to sighing with disappointment or disapproval, the manipulator communicates, “I am unhappy with you”, “I will hurt you”, or “you are a bad person if you won’t do or give me what I want.”

But your question is, “Is the manipulator aware that he or she is being manipulative?”

She may not know at two years old that what she is doing is manipulative, but over time she knows that certain tactics produce the results she wants. As she meets new people who resist her manipulative ways, she may face some tough realities. She may have teachers, coaches, or friends who refuse to always give into her. They may even give her some feedback that she is being manipulative. But if she continues to choose this way, she is conscious that she is being manipulative.

The problem with manipulators isn’t necessarily their tactics, but rather their thinking and underlying beliefs. As my friend and colleague, Chris Moles says, “People do what they do because they think what they think and believe what they believe.”

Manipulators think that they are always entitled to get what they want. They believe that everyone should cater to their needs first and if one manipulative strategy doesn’t work (such as pleading and begging), they will switch to another tactic (the guilt trip, or bullying). They are so good and persistent at getting what they want, knowing that the victim becomes exhausted and eventually gives in. That is exactly what the manipulator wants.

You will need to learn to understand why you’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated over and over again and what you can do to change. Usually, fear and guilt are the underlying reasons why we say yes when we want to, or should say no. We fear the loss of the relationship and the loss of their approval and love. We may also fear that they will do something drastic or harmful if we don’t give in.

We feel guilty because the manipulator accuses us of being selfish and unloving when we say no or refuse to do what he or she wants. Even our best efforts will never get a manipulator to agree that our “no” was justified or appropriate. Our guilt also comes from religious teaching that has taught us to never have boundaries and that other people’s needs and wants always come before our own. This keeps us feeling confused and guilty, easy prey for manipulators.

By your question, I wonder if you want to believe that he or she doesn’t know better. That the manipulator manipulates as a defense mechanism or a result of some deep emotional void. And because of these voids or defenses, then you feel less angry or frustrated with him or her?

This perspective may help you. If you knew that someone was stealing money from you because they were fearful that they would not have enough to buy food for their family, you would probably have more compassion than if they were stealing it for drugs. However, the solution isn’t to allow them to steal. It is to provide them an opportunity to earn money to get what they need in an honorable way.

In the same way, you can have compassion for someone who manipulates, but you have to do so from a posture of strength, not weakness. You must have the strength NOT to give into the manipulator because giving in only enables the manipulator’s beliefs to go unchallenged and his strategies to continue. That’s not good for you or your relationship with him, and it’s not good for him. Imagine how many relationships he or she has lost because he doesn’t know how to tolerate someone’s no or accept someone’s boundaries in a healthy way.

So the next time he or she tries their manipulative tactics on you, say something like this:  “I know you just want me to (Fill in the blank) come to your house for Thanksgiving this year mom. I know it’s tough for you when we don’t come each year (Empathy and compassion), but I have to also think about what’s best for my family and me, and for this year it won’t work (Taking responsibility for myself and being respectful towards others.).

Then sit respectfully with his or her disappointment, anger, or grief without giving in.

Emotions: Who’s In Charge Of Yours?

SOURCE:  New Life Ministries

Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. – 2 Peter 1:6

Who is in charge of your emotions?

Is it you, or have you formed the unfortunate habit of letting other people—or troubling situations—determine the quality of your thoughts and the direction of your day? If you’re wise—and if you’d like to build a better life for yourself and your loved ones—you’ll learn to control your emotions before your emotions control you.

Human emotions are highly variable, decidedly unpredictable, and often unreliable. Our emotions are like the weather, only far more fickle. So we must learn to live by faith, not by the ups and downs of our own emotional roller coasters.

Remember: Your life shouldn’t be ruled by your emotions—your life should be ruled by God. So if you think you’ve lost control over your emotions, don’t make big decisions, don’t strike out against anybody, and don’t speak out in anger. Count to ten (or more) and take a “time out” from your situation until you calm down.

– Steve Arterburn

Sometime during this day, you will probably be gripped by a strong negative feeling. Distrust it. Reign it in. Test it. And turn it over to God. Your emotions will inevitably change; God will not. So trust Him completely as you watch those negative feelings slowly evaporate into thin air—which, of course, they will. Our feelings do not affect God’s facts.Amy Carmichael

Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior. – C. S. Lewis

The spiritual life is a life beyond moods. It is a life in which we choose joy and do not allow ourselves to become victims of passing feelings of happiness or depression. – Henri Nouwen

LET GOD CHANGE YOUR MIND

SOURCE:  Amy Simpson/InTouch Ministries

When it comes to worry, yes it’s all in your head and there’s something you can do about it.

There was a time I was nearly powerless against my own emotions.

Growing up in a household made confusing by my mother’s schizophrenia, I learned to mask my feelings well—the only way I knew how to handle them. When bad things happened or I got negative feedback, I’d quickly plummet into discouragement, depression, and sometimes self-pity. It was amazing how quickly I could drop from fine to really, really not fine.

Things have changed. I’ve changed.

A Christian counselor helped me understand the power of my “cognitive distortions”—negative and false messages I was habitually sending myself. I used to say, You’re a loser. You always screw up. You’re  worthless. Sometimes I didn’t even put these messages into words; I just directed hatred toward myself. I didn’t realize I was mistreating my own  soul. And because I sent myself these messages  so often, my spirit believed they were true.

Now my spirit believes something different.

I started sending myself messages grounded in biblical truth. I also started reading the Bible more, taking risks in Christian fellowship, and reaching out to develop supportive friendships. I can see those old messages are false, and when they do come to mind, I recognize them and tell myself what is true: I have purpose. I’m a beloved child of God. My God is much more capable than I am, and He loves me.

Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

This change in self-talk affected more than my mind. It made a difference in my entire life. I’m less prone to depression, I’m more peaceful, and I have more love to offer others. I’ve noticed another change: I don’t worry as much as I used to. When I start to worry, I remind myself that God has transformed me into a new person by changing my mind.

Romans 12:2 is a commonly quoted verse, but we often focus only on not being shaped by the world but utterly transformed. We haven’t given enough attention to this transformation happening through a renewal of our minds. It’s not merely a soul or heart change. As the New Living Translation says, it’s a matter of letting God “transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Science is only now catching up to Scripture, which teaches us what is possible through Jesus Christ.

Our Changeable Brains

My story is one of many that demonstrate the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, this form of counseling “is based on the idea that our feelings and behaviors are caused by our thoughts, not external things like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation does not change.” Rather than live at the mercy of outside forces, we have a choice. And the most effective way to modify our habitual behaviors and emotional patterns is to let God change the way we think.

Strong, if emerging, physical science also supports this.  Research has transformed our understanding of the brain’s capacity for change through neuroplasticity. It turns out that our brains are moldable long past childhood; they can and do change throughout our lives.

“Brain plasticity is a physical process,” says Dr. Michael Merzenich, noted neuroscientist and expert in brain plasticity. “Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken, neural connections can be forged and refined or (conversely) weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities. Often, people think of childhood and young adulthood as a time of brain growth … but what recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the older brain can grow, too.”

Thanks to neuroplasticity, changing our thoughts (as well as our behaviors and experiences) causes us to form new synaptic connections, strengthen existing ones, and weaken others. These new and altered connections result in changes in our behavior. In his book Soft-Wired, Dr. Merzenich writes, “As a skill is developed (such as whistling, or doing a pirouette, or identifying bird calls), the specific neural routes that account for successfully performing this new skill become stronger, faster, more reliable, and much more specific to—specialized for—the task  at hand.”

This is as true for habitual worry as for anything else.

Worry Is a Problem

Many of us need this kind of change. In a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of respondents said that in the previous month, stress had caused them to overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Nearly one-third said they had skipped a meal because of stress, and more than 25 percent said they had been unable to sleep. Another survey found that more than 60 percent of American workers worry they will lose their jobs, with 32 percent saying they worry about this “a lot.” Parents commonly worry about their kids, and big worries start when children are small. Worry is not only common in our society; it’s also woven into our cultural fabric—an expectation of responsible people, a fashionable accessory whose absence seems suspicious.

We often confuse worry with two other states of mind: fear and anxiety. The three tend to be used interchangeably, but they’re different. Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

Our culture provides plenty of opportunities to worry. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us.

Fear is a response to an immediate (real or perceived) threat. Anxiety usually appears in anticipation of what will or might happen.

Unlike normal anxiety, worry is not an involuntary physical response but a pattern we choose.

Coming from within ourselves, it’s a decision we make to stay in that place of anxiety, which was designed to protect us from immediate danger, not to see us through everyday life. For some, staying in a state of anxiety isn’t a choice but, rather, a disorder that happens when the body’s healthy, helpful biological process works overtime. An anxiety disorder is, essentially, too much of a good thing, afflicting 29 percent of us at some point in our life. It’s very different from voluntary engagement in worry and requires treatment with medication, counseling, or both.

For anyone tempted to worry (and who isn’t?), our culture provides plenty of opportunities. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us. Voluntary worry directly contradicts the way God commands His people to live. If we’re not careful, it can lead to sinful behavior. Hence Jesus’ words: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). This same message holds through the Bible, affirming a countercultural lifestyle of faith and trust from Genesis to Revelation.

Worry can injure our bodies and minds. It can cause shortness  of breath; heart palpitations; pain and damage in the back, neck, and shoulders; muscle tension; nausea; headaches; and other physical problems. In his book The God-Shaped Brain, Christian psychiatrist Timothy R. Jennings describes how the effects of ongoing worry look in our brains. As we spend more of our lives in a state of anxiety, fear, and worry, our neurons don’t function as well as they should, and we don’t produce as many healthy new ones.

The damage isn’t limited to our bodies. It injures our relationships with other people. And like all sinful patterns, worry forms a barrier in our relationship with God. It keeps us focused on ourselves, our agendas, and our own problems. It keeps us peering into the future, which is God’s domain, and clinging to people and possessions that belong to Him. That’s why addressing worry must include spiritual transformation. Voluntary worry ultimately cannot be overcome by sheer willpower—its solution is rooted entirely in who God is.

Solution: Faith

In their book How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman used neuroscience to establish this startling concept: Belief in God—and religious activity itself—physically changes our brains. “Faith tempers our anxiety and fears, and it may even temper one’s belief in an angry God,” they write. “The beauty of Job’s story is that it reminds the suffering believer that God  is ultimately compassionate. And from the perspective of medicine and neuroscience, compassion can heal the body as well as the soul.”

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves.

The discovery of neuroplasticity is a startling affirmation of Christian belief in allowing God to transform us through the renewing of our minds. It affirms the power of cognitive change as well. “Watch over your heart with all diligence,” Proverbs tells us, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus Himself spoke of the true source of our behavior: “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matt. 15:17-20).

Likewise, Paul told the Roman church, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

No therapeutic technique can transform us as the Holy Spirit can.

Acknowledging that neurological changes happen with a change in belief doesn’t diminish the mystery or power of God’s work in us. But we do have a choice—we can welcome this transformational work or resist it. God graciously gives us the freedom to believe.

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves. If we don’t believe God is any bigger or better than us, we have reason to fret. But if we believe He’s all-powerful, trustworthy, righteous, and good, it makes sense not to waste our lives in worry, but instead to believe and embrace what we know to be true about God and who we are as His children.

The LORD, The LORD — OR — The Problem, The Problem?

SOURCE:  Max Lucado/Family Life

Your Best Thoughts Are God-Thoughts

When troubles come our way, we can be stressed and upset, or we can trust God.

You’ll never have a problem-free life. Ever.

You’ll never drift off to sleep on the wings of this thought: My, today came and went with no problems in the world. This headline will never appear in the paper: “We have only good news to report.”

You might be elected as president of Russia. You might discover a way to e-mail pizza and become a billionaire. You might be called out of the stands to pinch-hit when your team is down to its final out of the World Series, hit a home run, and have your face appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Pigs might fly.

A kangaroo might swim.

Men might surrender the remote control.

Women might quit buying purses.

It’s not likely. But it’s possible.

But a problem-free, no hassle, blue-sky existence of smooth sailing?

Don’t hold your breath.

Problems happen. They happen to rich people, sexy people, educated people, and sophisticated people. They happen to retired people, single people, spiritual people, and secular people.

All people have problems.

But not all people see problems the same way. Some people are overcome by problems. Others overcome problems. Some people are left bitter. Others are left better. Some people face their challenges with fear. Others with faith.

Caleb did.

In the wilderness
His story from the Old Testament stands out because his faith did. Forty five years earlier when Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan, Caleb was among them. He and Joshua believed the land could be taken. But since the other 10 spies disagreed, the children of Israel ended up in the wilderness.

God, however, took note of Caleb’s courage. The man’s convictions were so striking that God paid him a compliment that would make a saint blush. “My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly” (Numbers 14:24 NIV).  How would you like to have those words on your resume? What type of spirit catches the eye of God? What qualifies as a “different spirit?

Answers begin to emerge during the distribution of the lands west of the Jordan.

Then the children of Judah came to Joshua in Gilgal (Joshua 14:6). Every Hebrew tribe was represented. All the priests, soldiers, and people gathered near the tabernacle. Eleazar, the priest, had two urns, one containing the tribal names, the other with lists of land parcels. Yet before the people received their inheritance, a promise needed to be fulfilled.

I’m seeing a sturdy man with sinewy muscle. Caleb, gray headed and great hearted, steps forward. He has a spring in his step, a sparkle in his eye, and a promise to collect. “Joshua, remember what Moses told you and me at Kadesh Barnea?

Kadesh Barnea. The name stirred a 45-five-year-old memory in Joshua. It was from this camp that Moses heard two distinct reports.

All 12 men agreed on the value of the land. It flowed with milk and honey. All 12 agreed on the description of the people and the cities. Large and fortified. But only Joshua and Caleb believed the land could be overtaken.

Read carefully the words that Caleb spoke to Joshua at the end of the military campaign (Joshua 14:6-12). See if you can spot what was different about Caleb’s spirit.

Caleb … said to [Joshua]: “You know the word which the LORD said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God. So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ And now, behold the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me; and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.

What name appears and reappears in Caleb’s words? The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. The Lord. Nine references to the Lord! Who was on Caleb’s mind? Who was in Caleb’s heart? What caused him to have a different spirit? He centered his mind on the Lord.

What about you? What emphasis would a transcript of your thoughts reveal? The Lord? Or the problem, the problem, the problem, the problem? The economy, the economy? The jerk, the jerk?

Promised Land people do not deny the presence of problems. Canaan is fraught with giants and Jerichos. It does no good to pretend it is not. Servants like Caleb aren’t naïve, but they immerse their minds in God-thoughts.

Good water and battery acid
Imagine two cooking bowls. One contains fresh, clean water. The second contains battery acid. Take an apple and cut it in half. Place one half of the apple in the bowl of clean water. Place the other half in the bowl of battery acid. Leave each in its respective bowl for five minutes, and then pull out the two halves. Which one will you want to eat?

Your mind is the apple. God is good water. Problems are battery acid. If you marinate your mind in your problems, they will eventually corrode and corrupt your thoughts. But thoughts of God will preserve and refresh your attitudes. Caleb was different because he soaked his mind in God.

The psalmist showed us how to do this. He asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? (Psalm 42:5). He was sad and discouraged. The struggles of life threatened to pull him under and take another victim. But at just the right time, the writer made this decision: “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him … I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar (verses 5-6).

There is a resolve in those words. “I shall yet … I will remember You. The writer made a deliberate decision to treat his downcast soul with thoughts of God. Everywhere I go, I will remember you—from Jordan to Hermon to Mizar.

In your case the verse would read, “From the ICU to the cemetery, to the unemployment line, to the courtroom, I will remember you.

There is nothing easy about this. Troubles pounce on us like rain in a thunderstorm. Finding God amid the billows will demand every bit of discipline you can muster. But the result is worth the strain. Besides, do you really want to meditate on your misery? Will reciting your problems turn you into a better person? No. But changing your mind-set will.

Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed (John 14:27, AMP).  Instead, immerse your mind in God-thoughts.

When troubles come our way, we can be stressed and upset, or we can trust God. Caleb could have cursed God. He didn’t deserve the wilderness. He had to put his dreams on hold for four decades. Still he didn’t complain or grow sour. When the time came for him to inherit his property, he stepped forward with a God-drenched mind to receive it.

Set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things) (Col.  3:2 AMP). When giants are in the land, when doubts swarm your mind, turn your thoughts to God. Your best thoughts are God-thoughts.

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Taken from Glory Days by Max Lucado, copyright © 2015 by Max Lucado.

 

Anxiety: UNDER PRESSURE

SOURCE: Cameron Lawrence/InTouch Ministries

We might be people of faith, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to anxiety.

It’s a weekday morning, and the coffee shop fills quickly, a line snaking around tables from the counter to the door. The machines answer back to their handlers—hissing steam, grinding beans—in a kind of waking song. I watch patrons sip from the day’s first cup, souls once again easing into their bodies.

And yet, I am drinking decaf—an unpardonable sin, I realize—just as I have for a decade. Not as a demonstration of dietary conviction or some obscure religious observance, but because of how years ago caffeine became a destructive force in my life. No, let me try again: I gave up caffeine because it revealed a destructive force already latent within me—a propensity toward anxiety of the sort that overtakes the mind.

It started in the weeks leading up to my wedding and then intensified after the honeymoon. Beneath my usual calm demeanor, irrational thoughts were inexplicably taking over my interior life. It was as if I had been walking through the familiar landscape of my existence, when suddenly I discovered a solitary door in the middle of an open field. I walked through, and at first nothing seemed different. But then I sensed them—specters creeping among the tall grasses, rustling the high branches. The world of my mind had become populated with shadows of my hidden fears. I looked for an exit, but the door had disappeared.

I prayed. I read the Bible. I went to church and talked with my pastors. Still, the anxiety persisted, affecting my work, relationships, and faith in God.

After several months of this, my wife had an idea. “Why not try giving up caffeine?” I’d been drinking a lot of coffee, and it hadn’t occurred to me that the daily intake might be exacerbating my condition. As a solution, it seemed too simple, too small to matter. But what did I have to lose?

I cut out caffeine, and within a week something was different. My mind was becoming clearer. After two weeks, thought patterns that had possessed me were weakening. In a few months, I felt more myself than I had in a long, long time. Since then, I can’t say I’ve ever been quite the same, having by grace passed through terror and found what I didn’t know lived in me. In truth, it lives in me still, even if not in the same ways. I feel anxiety flare up from time to time, trying to intrude. Trying to push me out of my own life. And what I’ve learned is that I’m not alone.

Just the other day, I was having dinner with a friend, when he confessed that he’d been suffering from panic attacks. Work had been tough—tougher than ever—but the anxiety he was experiencing transcended typical job stress. This easy-going, happy guy had found himself crippled by fear that had come with a suddenness and severity that left him sobbing in the morning’s wee hours. Medication has been helping, but the fear is still there, lurking. And a few months ago, I was on a retreat with some fellow writers, only to discover that due to all manner of hardships, several of the group were taking pills of their own.

No, this isn’t about coffee. This isn’t about caffeine or whether I think you should consume it. This is about the simultaneous strength and fragility of the human mind, and how powerful it is in shaping our lives for better or worse. This is about the problem of anxiety we each face in our own way. This is a conversation about faith.

Yet I hesitate to write that last line, because far too many Christians have abused their brothers and sisters struggling with anxiety. “Just have more faith,” people say, not comprehending the complexity of fear. Faith is more than the mental assent to a tidy system of beliefs. It requires more than a list of affirmations we repeat to ourselves, as if mantras can overcome our deepest existential crises. These fears, these anxieties, often lurk beneath the veneers of our theological systems and churchly behavior. We can’t always identify them, but they’re shaping our lives, guiding our reactions and decisions, whether we realize it or not.

Faith is an encounter—sometimes with a presence, and sometimes with an absence. Underneath all our apprehensions is one fundamental fear: that there is no God, or that if there is one, He isn’t good—despite our biblical training or the inspiring testimonies we’ve heard. Despite our own mysterious experiences, even if intermittent, of Love Himself. Deep down, we are often still afraid. So what to do?

Praying, reading Scripture, confessing sin, attending services, speaking with professionals—and yes, even taking medication—can all be redemptive. And we should submit ourselves to wise counsel, whether pastoral or medical. But in the end, the ultimate solution must be an encounter with God Himself, an ongoing communion we struggle toward—not through works that any man should boast, but through a humble, repentant heart.

This is how we open our hearts and minds to Him: We call out from within our desperation, and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” and wait for Him, who in due time will come shining in—liberating our plains and forests, rivers and oceans, of every haunting ghost.

How to Help Your Anxious Child

SOURCE:  Kim Blackham

It is normal for children to have some anxieties throughout childhood.  Being afraid of the dark, worried about shots at the doctor’s office, fear of being left alone, or anxious about an upcoming test are common fears for many children.  But what do you do when the anxieties feel like they are taking over the child’s sense of well-being?

  1. Encourage them to see the worries and concerns as existing independent from them.

If they can separate themselves from the anxieties, it will be easier for them to understand and manage them.  You can do this, but helping them understand that worries and anxieties are normal – we all have them, but that we get to decide which worries and concerns we are going to allow.

  1.  Explain that while some people may think that worries and concerns only exist in our heads, they have a very real impact on us physically as well.

Ask them what happens for them physically when they are afraid.  Where do they feel it?  Sometime people feel it as a yucky ball in their stomach, other times people feel it as a tight knot in their chest, or feeling hot and sticky all over.  See if they can identify the physical response to those anxieties.

READ FURTHER ABOUT THIS TOPIC AT:  http://www.kimblackham.com/how-to-help-your-anxious-child/

 

Two Traps to Avoid: “If Only” and “What If?”

SOURCE:   Susan Yates/Family Life

In each season of my life, I’ve found myself falling into two mental traps which are not helpful.

One is the “If only” syndrome, and the other is the “What if?” syndrome.

Here’s how “If only” might express itself:

  • “If only I had a husband.”
  • “If only I had more money.”
  • “If only my husband would act like…”
  • “If only my husband (or I) had a good job.”
  • “If only we had a different house.”
  • “If only my parents (or his) understood.”
  • “If only my child would sleep through the night.”
  • “If only I had a really close friend.”
  • “If only I didn’t come from such a wounded past.”
  • “If only I wasn’t stuck in this place.”
  • “If only I was free of this disease.”
  • “If only I knew how to handle my teen.”
  • “If only I didn’t have to do this.”
  • “If only I didn’t struggle with this.”

Can you identify?

You can probably add to this list yourself. Over the years I’ve realized that these thoughts merely lead me into a real case of self-pity. At the core of what I’m expressing is: “Life is about me and my happiness.” I have a bucket that needs to be filled.

But the reality is that even if the desire for one “If only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the list. Too often I get myself into this mindset without even realizing it. And it sinks me into a bad mood or a feeling of being depressed. The focus is on me, and I need to confess this selfishness and ask God to forgive me and to enable me to focus on Him and on others. And I need to ask Him to give me a grateful heart.

The other trap is “What if?”:

  • “What if I can’t get pregnant?”
  • “What if my husband leaves me?”
  • “What if I don’t get this raise?”
  • “What if I can’t complete this project?”
  • “What if we lose the election?”
  • “What if the medical tests bring bad news?”
  • “What if my child doesn’t make the team?”
  • “What if I fail?”

This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “What if” comes true. And this can be a paralyzing fear.

The “What if” syndrome is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination—we are often visionaries; we are creative. We tend to have this weakness, however: We can create the worst-case scenario in our imagination in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.

What’s at the core of this attitude? I fail to believe that God is in control. My “What if” has become bigger than my God. I have temporarily forgotten that He is loving, He is kind, He is present, He is good, and He will never, ever forsake me.

I can give Him my “What if”—He can handle it. He will sustain me.

Underlying the “If only” and “What if” syndromes is an expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. We may recognize that’s not realistic, but too often we live with that expectation in our thought life without even realizing it.

We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.

Today, what is your “If only…”?  What is your “What if”?

Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).

Begin to say His traits out loud: “You are my Father, You go before me. You prepare a way for me. You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.”

This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.

Is Trauma Terminal?

SOURCE:  Chuck Swindoll

Matthew 11:28–30

The definition reflects devastation:

Trauma: An injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent . . . a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress.

Like potatoes in a pressure cooker, we twenty-first century creatures understand the meaning of stress.

A week doesn’t pass without a few skirmishes with those “extrinsic agents” that beat upon our fragile frames. They may be as mild as making lunches for our kids before 7:30 in the morning (mild?) or as severe as a collision with another car . . . or another person.

Makes no difference.

The result is “trauma”—a two-bit word for nervous. You know, the bottom-line reason Valium remains a top seller. Our emotional wounds are often deep. They don’t hemorrhage like a stabbing victim’s, but they are just as real and just as painful . . . sometimes more.

Years ago, a stress test carried on by Dr. Thomas Holmes and his colleagues concluded that an accumulation of two hundred or more “life change units” in any year may mean more disruption—more trauma—than an individual can stand. On their scale, death of a spouse equals one hundred units, divorce represents seventy-three units . . . and Christmas equals twelve units! That helps explain the idea behind “something snapping” inside certain people when the final straw falls on them. Our capacity for trauma has its limits.

Joseph Bayly could certainly understand. He and his wife lost three of their children—one at eighteen days (after surgery); another at five years (leukemia); a third at eighteen years (sledding accident plus hemophilia). In my wildest imagination, I cannot fathom the depth of their loss. In the backwash of such deep trauma, the Bayly couple stood sometimes strong, sometimes weak, as they watched God place a period before the end of the sentence on three of their children’s lives. And their anguish was not relieved when well-meaning people offered shallow, simple answers amidst their grief.

Eyes that read these words might very well be near tears. You are trying to cope without hope. You are stretched dangerously close to the “200-unit” limit . . . and there’s no relief on the horizon. You’re bleeding and you’ve run out of bandages. You have moved from mild tension to advanced trauma.

Be careful! You are in the danger zone, emotionally. You’re a sitting duck, and the adversary is taking aim with both barrels loaded, hoping to open fire while you are vulnerable. Bam! “Run!” Boom! “Think suicide.”

Listen carefully! Jesus Christ opens the gate, gently looks at you and says:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28–30 MSG)

Nothing complicated. No big fanfare, no trip to Mecca, no hypnotic trance, no fee, no special password. Just come. Meaning? Unload. Unhook the pack and drop it in His lap . . . now. Allow Him to take your stress as you take His rest. Does He know what trauma is all about? Remember, He’s the One whose sweat became like drops of blood in the agony of Gethsemane. If anybody understands trauma, He does. Completely.

His provision is profound, attainable, and right. He’s a master at turning devastation into restoration.

Look again at His invitation in Matthew 11:28–30, and accept it with all your heart.

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Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.

THE DARKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

SOURCE:  Courtney Reissig/The Gospel Coalition

Until one year, when it didn’t.

I had been married a little more than a year when my first dark Christmas hit. I had every reason to think I would be bursting out of my normal clothes and growing a little baby. But I wasn’t. There were no food aversions, no bouts of nausea, and no need for stretchy pants. The baby inside me had stopped growing weeks before. I was devastated. I felt little Christmas joy that year; there was only Christmas ache and a longing for what might have been. It wasn’t my last sad Christmas, as we waited for God to provide us with children. What was once such a happy family time for me, suddenly became a stinging reminder of the very thing I wanted most but still lacked—a family filled with children of my own.

Whenever we talk about Christmas we think about happy, joyous times, and that is most certainly the case for many. In the years since our first loss, we’ve had Christmases of joy and Christmases of sorrow. We know the feelings of both. But for others, Christmas can carry a dark cloud of sadness, a sadness that never seems to let up and is only exacerbated by the happiness swirling around you. For some, Christmas is a reminder of the darkness of painful circumstances. It carries no tidings of great joy. Maybe you are facing your first Christmas without your spouse or parents. Maybe you are reminded every Christmas season of your longings for a spouse. The loneliness can make celebrating the holidays too much to bear. Maybe your table is missing a beloved child who is wayward, and things never seem the same without him. Maybe your parents are divorced and you shuffle between two houses on Christmas day, while your friends spend family time together. Christmas feels isolating and meaningless when all is not as it should be.

Whatever darkness you are facing this Christmas, know this: with all of the songs and festivities that point to good cheer and great joy, Christmas recalls darkness unlike any we will ever experience, but a darkness that brought light into a fallen world.

Mary’s Soul-Piercing Pain

While Christmas is about the dawning of great joy in the coming of our Savior, it also foreshadows the darkness of his crucifixion. Simeon told Mary of her son’s purpose, that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Mary, the woman whose heart warmed for her son with every kick in the womb. Mary, the woman who nursed and diapered the very Son of God. Mary, the woman who loved and raised her son like any other mother would do. And while he was no ordinary son, he was still her son. Bearing the Son of God did not make her numb to the often painful realities of motherhood, and her pain would be excruciating. No earthly person felt the weight of Christ’s purpose like she did. While many were rejoicing at his coming, she would one day face the agonizing grief of watching her son suffer on the cross for her sins and our sins.

It’s easy to idolize Mary as a super-human vessel, ready to do whatever was asked of her. While she was certainly godly, she was still human. She was still a mother. This is what Simeon is getting at in his prophecy. With the atonement for our sins came the motherly pain of Mary. As she stared at that little baby in the manger, she may not have fully understood all that was going to take place, but God the Father did. The birth of our Savior carried an ominous shadow of the darkness to come.

God’s Chosen Pain

Mary may not have fully understood what Jesus was sent to do, but God the Father knew of this imminent grief and ordained it to be (Isa. 53:10). Jesus knew what was expected of him, and he agonized over the grief and suffering waiting for him at Calvary (Luke 22:39-46). With every shepherd’s praise and magi’s gift, the Father knew that the perfect fellowship would soon be momentarily broken for sin. In her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the Father and the Son’s grief at the cross:

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction. “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!” But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down in reply. The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished. God set down his saw. This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.

With the joy over this little baby in the manger came the promised reality that the joy would soon turn to momentary grief. We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows what it means to grieve over loss. The darkness of our Christmas is not foreign to this God. He is not aloof. He is present with us, because he knows us deeply and walks with us in our pain. He has endured deep pain, too.

When we think about Christmas and are heartbroken to face another holiday with tears, we have hope. While Mary faced heart-piercing grief as she birthed her son, this grief was for the good of us all. While God the Son suffered at the crucifixion, by this suffering we are healed (Isa. 53:5), and he is a great high priest who can sympathize with our sufferings (Heb. 4:15).

Whatever darkness you face this Christmas, it is not the final word in your life. It may be lifelong. It may feel like it will never let up. It may threaten to undo you at times. And it is real. But we can grieve this holiday with hope that one day the baby who came in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes and make his blessings flow for us forever (Rev. 21:4). The darkness that hovered over his cradle did not win. And it won’t win over us either.

A PRAYER FOR WAITING ON THE LORD WHEN EVIL SEEMS TO WIN

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

   Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. Psalm 37:7-9

Dear heavenly Father,

You send your Word with Swiss timing and uncanny precision. Whenever we’re vexed or fretful, you anticipate it. Whenever we’re confused or anxious, you’ve already spoken wisdom about the matter, in multiple places in the Scriptures. Whenever we feel vulnerable or angry, time and time again, you come to us in the Bible and bring us back to gospel-sanity. How we praise you for the counsel and consolation of your Word; the grace and power of the Scriptures; the truth and authority of the Bible.

It’s easy to get worked up over the apparent success of those who bring harm to others—evildoers who even get rewarded for their madness. The recent beheadings is glaring and horrific example. How long, O Lord, before you send Jesus back to put all things right? When will Jesus return to finish making all things new?

Though you won’t give us a date, you do give us yourself. You’re calling us to stillness and fretless waiting. Every day, in multiple contexts, we need to hear you say, “Be still and know that I am God.” No good comes from our obsessing about darkness and evil-making. Nothing profitable results from our spending extra time fertilizing our anger, fueling our disgust, fuming about how much evildoers get away with.

Satan was defeated at the cross, and he is filled with fury because he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12). Having been humiliated, he will be eradicated. Death and dying, terror and terrifying, evil and evil-makers will be gone forever. For a Day is coming when the knowledge of your glory will cover the entire earth as the waters cover the sea.

Until that Day, we will work hard to push back the effects of the Fall, and offer our communities a foretaste of the world to come. How we praise you that the very righteousness with which you have already robed us is the same righteousness with which you are going to fill the earth. Fill our hearts with your grace and our hands with your mercy.

So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ reigning and returning name.

How To Stop Worrying So Much

SOURCE:  Relevant Magazine/TYLER EDWARDS

The art of casting all your cares on God.

Do you know what one the most commonly ignored commands in all of Scripture is?   “Don’t worry.”

Do you know what the most common command in Scripture is?   “Do not be afraid.”

The Bible tells us not to worry or be afraid, but you take one look at our culture, and you see how closely we hold onto those commandments.

It’s understandable, actually. Not worrying is easier said than done. We are all anxious about something: Relationships, finances, health, the future. We get stressed with work, with responsibilities, with decisions.

We might use different words for it, but it all boils down to one thing: fear.

We have lots of fears. We are afraid to make the wrong decision. We fear what we don’t know. We fear what we can’t change. When we run out of reasonable things to worry about, we start fabricating unreasonable ones. It’s like our minds are little worry factories manned by little worker elves that never sleep. We mass-produce anxiety 24/7.

Worrying Without Reason

So over and over, God tells us not to be afraid. He commands us not to worry. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry without good reason or don’t worry unless it makes you feel better.” He just says don’t.

To help us obey the command, God tells us how to stop worrying. In Luke, He says “Trust in me. For if I take care crass of birds, how much more will I take care you my children?” In 1 Peter He says to cast our worry onto Him. To give it over to Him.

For many of us, giving our anxiety over to God feels like an almost insurmountable task. Our issues with worry and anxiety are beyond our own ability to handle. We need to address these issues with friends, and perhaps seek professional counseling. There is nothing wrong with admitting you need others to help you with your worry. That is not battle you were ever meant to fight on your own, and the sooner you seek help, the sooner you can be free of it.

When you live a life free from worry, you’re living in the full truth of who God is. You’re living under the assumption that He is in control, He cares and He can do something about your circumstances.

The Response to Worry

In the church we talk about faith a lot.

Faith and doubt, it’s always those two together. But doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Not really. The opposite of faith is fear. That’s why God commands us not to do it.

We don’t need to be afraid because God loves us. He promised to take care of us. He never promises there will be no pain but He does promise to come back and to take that pain away.

How do we overcome worry? We need to equip ourselves with a proper understanding of God.

1. Equip yourself with the knowledge of who God is.

Is God good? Is God all-powerful? Does God love you? Will God take care of you? If you believe the answer to these are yes then our reasons to worry drop significantly It’s a trust issue.

2. Surrender.

We fear because we want to know, we want to be in control. God knows. God is in control. When we place our faith in Him. We can overcome our fears because we know He is good and He will take care of us. Lay your fears at His feet and leave them there. How do you bring your fears to God? Pray. When you were little and scared of monsters what did you do? You called out for daddy. It’s effective. When you are worried or concerned, pray.

3. Consider your witness.

Our relationship with God fundamentally changes our perception. Our worries about food, clothes, appearances and money become superfluous. We as Christians can meet the worries of the world with the confidence that God reigns over it all.

 4. Think about Jesus.

Consider what He endured for you. He was not guilty of sin but He paid the price for all sin. He suffered. He died on a cross. He carried the burden of our transgressions. If Jesus endured all that for you, do you really believe He would forsake you?

5. Know who you are.

You belong to God. You are His. When you have confidence and security in your identity as a child of God you will find that worry has hard time getting its hooks into you. Worry breeds in insecurity. Find your security in Jesus.

So give up on living of a life of “what if’s?” You can spend your whole life wondering about maybes and possibilities. All it will do is cripple you from dealing with things you can actually control.

Seek out friends and professionals who can help you deal with your inner turmoil. With their help, you are fighting a winnable battle.

Worry doesn’t prevent the sorrows of tomorrow. It destroys the joys of today.

Look at the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Mary sits at Jesus’s feet. Martha worries about many things. Jesus tells us not to worry because He wants us to be free from worry. He wants us to live life to the full. Worry and fear steal that away. We worry because we are focused on other things. We overcome our worry by focusing on Jesus. When we focus on Him the worries and troubles of this life fade into the background.

 

You Can Triumph Over Fear

SOURCE:  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Fear is a powerful emotion, one that’s often difficult to control.

It can freeze us in our tracks making it hard to protect ourselves. It attacks our ability to trust and compromises our ability to relax in relationships. It takes over our thought and decision-making processes, interfering with our ability to focus and learn. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, fear also impacts us in ways that are subliminal and, therefore, hard to identify.

We often repress intense fears. We push them deep and cover them up with other emotions like anger, depression, and anxiety. We overcompensate with pride, arrogance, humor, or a laid-back attitude.

If we grow up with unrecognized fear as a major organizer of our emotional life, we can have difficulty developing trusting relationships. Even when we overcome that and connect successfully with people, we still have trouble being natural or genuine with them. Sometimes we let them in partially, but build a hard-to-see inner wall, which is difficult for them to get through.

Satan wants us to be afraid of people. He doesn’t want us to be vulnerable in relationships. Instead, he wants us to cover up and react in ways that pull us away from relationships for what looks like self-preservation.

As we “practice” these dysfunctional responses over and over in the first 12-15 years of life, we get very good at them. Then when it’s time to start to really open up to God in deep and meaningful ways, those repressed, intense fears put us on guard so we actually resist giving ourselves to God.

You see, we don’t want to be hurt again, so we find other ways to cover up. We distance ourselves from dependence on God by being aloof to Him, being angry for what He hasn’t given us or our loved ones, feeling bitter about His “unfairness”, blaming Him for all the mistakes we made, and many other behaviors as well. It’s just where Satan wants us! In fact, it’s part of Satan’s battle strategy. We get sucked right into it, hook, line, and sinker.

Are you plagued with fear?

Today’s scripture makes it clear that God is telling us we can triumph over fear. He has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. He also tells us in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love drives away fear. God’s love is perfect, and He loves you.

As you grasp hold of that truth, you will be able to trust Him more. When you begin to understand how much He loves you, the power of the things you fear will wilt in comparison to the omnipotence of God. It’s like fear melting away when a loving parent comes into your darkened room during a thunderstorm to hold you and give you security.

Today, talk to God about everything. Believe that He loves you … and thank Him for His love. Recognize that His strength is stronger than any fear. Only then will you be able to walk in peace, not fear.

Remember that this is not a one-time event. We need to give all our cares and fears to Him daily, and commit to trusting in His love. Whether you conquer life or you fear it is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, thank You for loving me. Thank You for giving me a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. And please direct me to be a better steward of these gifts. Help me to trust You more and to accept Your perfect love. I know that only then can I overcome fear. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One sent to forgive my sins and remove my fear, Jesus Christ; AMEN!

The Truth
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.   2 Timothy 1:7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6

Are You Unexpectedly Pregnant?

SOURCE:  JoHannah Reardon

Are You Unexpectedly Pregnant?

Find courage in knowing this didn’t take God by surprise

Brandon and Aimee* were in crisis. The couple had met when Brandon was in the military and married during one of his furloughs. Now he was home and they were preparing for the future by pursuing their college degrees. These two people were motivated, and future success was written all over them. They felt that nothing could stand in their way until Aimee discovered she was pregnant.

Devastated, they met with me to discuss their options. Since they’d both grown up with limited funds, they were fiercely determined to change the trajectory of their lives. They did not want to be poor, and even more, they did not want a child of theirs to grow up poor. This pregnancy seemed to threaten all their dreams and even their future security. They couldn’t see any hope or reason for this radical blow to their plans.

As they told me their story, my mind drifted back to my own similar series of events.

When my husband was in his third year of seminary, we’d just about run out of funds. There was one week when we had absolutely no money left to buy groceries because of some unexpected expenses. I mean none—not even an extra dollar bill lying around the house. Just when I was starting to truly fret, I noticed a personal letter in our daily mail—a note of encouragement from an elderly woman I’d met only once before. She knew my husband was in seminary and things were tight, so along with the note, she enclosed a 20-dollar bill. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough to tide us over until the next paycheck. With that small amount we were able to buy some staples—oats, rice, milk, canned goods, peanut butter, bread. It was a rather boring week of food, but it made meal preparation really easy!

That gives you some idea of what our circumstances were like in those days. We struggled to cover our expenditures, not wanting to go into debt, so we lived as frugally as possible. One of the ways we decided to save money was to get rid of maternity insurance, since that added a lot of expense and since we had no intentions of adding a baby to our already precarious situation.

Famous last words (or thoughts).

A few weeks after the no-money-for-groceries incident, I found out I was pregnant. In spite of taking precautions to prevent pregnancy, there was no denying the facts. Not only did the pregnancy test confirm it, but I was experiencing all the symptoms, including acute morning sickness. In fact, it was so bad, I had to quit my job because I simply couldn’t get out of bed. For an entire month, I was lucky to keep soda and crackers down (which helped our grocery bill stay low!).

But, of course, it was a financial crisis. Not only did we not have insurance to cover the pregnancy, but I was no longer bringing in any income. When I told my husband the news with tears, he bravely said, “I don’t understand why this is happening now. All I know is that God is good.” So we clung to that fact over the next nine months as we saw God provide for us. My husband graduated a few months after our beautiful daughter was born. And he graduated debt-free.

I shared these things with Brandon and Aimee, and I also want to share them with you. If you are facing a similar experience, know that God was not taken by surprise with this pregnancy. He planned this child in eternity past and has a plan for this child in eternity future. Your present troubles will be put in perspective as life unfolds. And as you journey forward, keep the following things in mind.

Embrace this child by faith

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” When we were unsure why we were experiencing this unplanned pregnancy, we clung to this verse. We understood that this child was a gift, even if she didn’t seem like it at the moment. So we accepted that fact by faith and waited for the understanding to dawn—which occurred far sooner than either of us would have expected. Once we embraced this child rather than fearing her, we began to experience all the joy felt by expectant parents who have planned their child.

Trust God’s timing

The timing seemed all wrong. We couldn’t understand why I would be pregnant at the worst possible time financially. But the extreme financial stress lasted only a few years. By the time our daughter was school age, we could afford her.

The whole experience also gave me compassion for others who were going through something similar. I began volunteering at a local pregnancy center, which was when Brandon and Aimee came to see me, wanting to abort, terrified that their child would grow up poor. I was able to tell them that their child wouldn’t know they were poor. They could continue their education and by the time their child was old enough to understand their economic situation, it would be greatly improved. No preschooler ever feels poor if he or she has enough to eat and is loved.

And even if they were poor, God would be faithful to meet their needs. The very act of trusting God for our daily needs is a powerful testimony to a child and can help them see how active God is in our lives. And that’s worth more than all the riches this world can hold.

Be assured that God knows more than you do

My husband and I are both planners. We both enjoy security and knowing that “all of our ducks are in a row.” It’s much more comfortable for us to see exactly where the money is coming from and to work out a budget. Neither of us is overly concerned if it’s a tight budget, but we both are a lot happier when the numbers line up. But God blew our budget out of the water so that it was unrecognizable, and there was nothing left but for us to trust him. That’s a great place to be.

With an unexpected pregnancy, we clung to the fact that God knew more than we did. Although it seemed like a disaster to us, we found courage in the fact that God chose to give us a baby, and that he chose to do that in the midst of our financial struggles. The message was long-lasting. God sees how things will turn out and superintends our circumstances. In our case, he overrode our attempts at preventing pregnancy, which made it all the more clear that this was a child he wanted in the world. Of course, we have no doubts about the wisdom of that now. Our daughter has been a delight and brought us more joy than we could possibly imagine. The days of struggle seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the years of happiness she has brought us.

*names changed

Does FEAR Control Your Life?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet Lerner

“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” 1 John 4:17-18 NLT

Daily the media reports violence and abuse, especially in the home … child neglect, sexual violence, rape, abandonment, and on and on. Victims of abuse continue suffering pain long after the actual abuse has ended. Memories haunt them. They still feel the shame, fear, anger and grief brought about by painful events of the past.

Are you or someone you love a surviving victim of abuse? If so, you may be allowing fear to rule in your life. The fear you experienced when you were being abused has become a fear of everyday life. Fear of committing to a relationship. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of intimacy.

These feelings of fear often cause victims to put up barriers to God and to relationships with other people. Fear is an extremely powerful emotion that we don’t know how to control. It attacks our ability to trust. It compromises our ability to relax in relationships. Fear of becoming vulnerable, of being betrayed by others, or even by God.

One of the first steps to overcoming fear and tearing down the barriers it has built between you and others is to ask God’s forgiveness for your failure to trust him. This will open the door for you to begin building a relationship with him. To know him better by spending time talking to him and reading about him in the Bible. Only then can you begin to know how much he loves you. Only then can you grow to understand his character. With that understanding you will know that you can trust him, and he will help you build closer relationships with those around you.

Children reared by an abusive or neglectful father often have an incorrect view of God, picturing him like their earthly father. The good news is that our Heavenly Father is perfect and fair. Perfect love drives out fear. God’s love is perfect. And he wants to set you free.

Father, forgive me for not trusting you as I should. I believe that you love me. I believe that Jesus died for me. I want to be your child. Help me to trust you and your perfect love … and then to be able to overcome the fear that has ruled my life. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Four Reasons for Addictions

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

So many things in life seem relatively straightforward on our first pass. Later we discover that there is more to it.

For example, at first, all deciduous trees seem to look alike—tall and leafy. Gradually though, our eyes can tell the difference between oaks, maples, poplar and ash. Finer discriminations come over time. We could also do the same with fear, anger, bipolar . . . almost any category. And we can do it with addictions.

On our first pass, addictions are lusts. They are out-of-control desires that usually hurt the addict and anyone else who is close by. But if we spend enough time with addicts we might notice subgroups within addictions, and though lust applies to them all, there are other biblical approaches that could be even more suitable.

I’ll identify four subgroups.

1. The hurt, fearful, or shamed addict. These are well known and most common. Addiction covers pain, guilt, shame, fear—stuff that just hurts. If we miss these reasons we will be unhelpful.

2. The angry addict. These drink and drug at others. They have enduring anger at certain people and the addiction is aimed at them. You won’t hear a sentence or two without some expression of judgment, sarcasm, or cynicism. Sometimes these angry addicts are also hurt and fearful; sometimes they are just plain angry. They are scary, not so much because they might hurt you, though they certainly can lash out at family and friends, but because anger is so delicious and satisfying to the angry person. For these addicts, anger becomes part of the addiction.

3. The bored addict. These are difficult. We can understand the desire to numb pain, and we are familiar with anger, but life is certainly not boring. And though we can easily summon some respect and empathy for those who are thrown by the pain of life, boredom has more in common with the spoiled brat. For the bored, addiction is a way to feel more alive and above the ordinariness of daily life. Anger and entitlement might not be too far away.

4. The “what happened?” addict. These moved into addiction by way of naive experimentation or simply because friends were doing it. But, for some reason, they seemed to like it more than most, so they did it again, and again, and, at some point, the addiction owned them. And the whole thing is a bit of a blur. The reality is that some people like the experience of being high or altered more than others. Is there biology involved? Probably.

There are dozens of other reasons for addictions. I am not suggesting that these are even the top four. I do think, however, that a growing taxonomy such as this can help us understand people more clearly and enable us to counsel them with the truth that is most relevant to their addiction.

 

 

When Fear Grips Us

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

Isaiah 41:10

All throughout the Scriptures, the Lord encourages us not to be afraid or anxious. As His children, we have no basis for fear. Of course, there are reasons for us to be extremely cautious about what we do and where we go, but God’s people are not to live in a state of anxiety.

If you think about it, you can identify at least six anxieties that are basic to all mankind. They are the fear of criticism, illness, old age, death, poverty, and losing a loved one. Although these are universal worries, they are in reality symptoms of something deep inside that feeds our fears.

Some of the root causes are:

A basic sense of inadequacy. Because of distorted thinking, we frequently feel incompetent to tackle certain challenges or tasks that should be possible for us to accomplish.

The tendency to set unrealistic standards for ourselves. We can go through life trying to measure up to lofty expectations that are self-imposed rather than goals set by God.

An innate sense of unworthiness. It’s amazing how many people will not succeed in life because they just don’t feel they deserve it.

In the midst of our fears and anxieties, we need to remember God’s promise in today’s passage. He reassures us, “Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” It is important that we look up at Him and not around at our circumstances.

Codependency Is Painful

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:5-6 NIV

Codependents live in a pain-filled world of shame and fear.

They often suffer emotional stress that may result in health problems.

To cope with this pain, they sometimes make poor decisions that lead to personal addictions of their own or other harmful behaviors like extramarital affairs. They may even lose faith in God. The one they are trying to help cannot give them support, so they lose trust and shut down their feelings. Because they are hiding the problem, they cannot talk to anyone.

They are not helping their loved one; in fact, they are enabling him or her to continue the misbehavior. And they are hurting themselves.

The simplest definition of codependency is “to be dependent along with.”

That does not mean we necessarily use the same substances or participate in the same kinds of behaviors. What it does imply is being so deeply drawn into another person’s life that we are filled with guilt and blame and other downgrading thoughts.

But that is not who we are . . .

We must remember that our significance is in Christ. Only in him can we find healing from the pain. Only through him can we be free and confident. Learning to live out the reality of who we are in Christ begins with making a choice: Whom will we honor? After making that choice, we will have to practice putting that reality to work in our lives.

Father, I have been in so much pain. Guilt and frustration have overwhelmed me. I need you. I do know that my only hope is in you. Jesus is my rock and my salvation. I am special because of your love for me. Help me remember that as I keep my eyes on you, I cannot be shaken. In Jesus’ name . . .

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

These thoughts were drawn from …

Close—But Not Too Close by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee.

Our Choice: People-pleasing or God-pleasing

SOURCE: Adapted from an article by  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Are You a People-Pleaser or God-Pleaser?

For many of us, fear of people’s opinions is so deeply ingrained in our minds and our hearts that it’s woven into the daily fabric of our lives and decision-making. Fear debilitates us in multiple ways and in so many relationships. Fear of bodily harm forms a blatant impact. But although it’s common when we are children, it is fairly uncommon within adult relationships, except for the tragedy of domestic violence.

Fear of others creeps up on most adults in more subtle ways. Like the fear of being rejected … or being left out … being rejected … or looking foolish to another person … being judged as incompetent … or just not being valued. We never set out to be afraid of these things. But because of past hurts or mistakes, these anxieties secretively, but powerfully, warp our relational lenses. Our fears can affect our relationships with those very close to us like our spouses, and also how we act in front of total strangers.

While trying to be a “people-pleaser” may appear harmless on the surface, it can create crippling fear. Elevating other’s assessment of us to idol status, worshipping it, is what we are actually doing. People-pleasing usually requires us to compromise truthful, healthy functioning and replace it with dysfunctional, distorted processing and behavior. Often, we ultimately choose to please others and displease God, instead of displeasing others to please God. Fear of displeasing others allows this downward spiral to accelerate and we then feel out of control, because we have given control and power of our life-steering mechanism to the people whose positive opinions we crave.

Today, watch you interactions with others. How much of your conduct is shaped by wanting to please them? Do you think about what God wants from you in that situation? Begin replacing the fear of displeasing others with the sadness of displeasing the One who faced total rejection and death for you, Your Lord. Make pleasing Him your highest priority. In general, we try to please people so that they will give us what we want … approval, value, importance, hope, love, acceptance, forgiveness, destiny, safety, or comfort. Turn your trust to God who is the only source of providing all these things, and so much more…everyday. Whether your goal is to please God or instead, the dysfunctional requests and needs of peers is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father, I am just beginning to realize just how fearful I am of others. I confess, Father, to being a “people-pleaser.” I am too concerned about displeasing others and looking foolish in their eyes. Help free me of this fear, Father, by developing a deeper trust in You. I know that trusting in others is risky while trusting in You is safe. I know that You have everything I need…that Your riches will never run short. Father, I desire deeply to change and to eliminate my fear of others. I pray in the name of the one who was rejected by the world to please You, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth
But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”   John 6:20

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.   Proverbs 29:25

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king.  Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?  But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

Daniel 3:13,14,17,18

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