Dealing With Difficult Emotions

Sequoia

A few weeks ago I went on vacation with my family to California and we had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park as well as some other sights that were simply breathtaking.  From all the sites we saw, I was most taken back by the Sequoia trees.  The General Grant Sequoia tree (third largest in the world) was so large, it would take 20 adults holding hands to be able to surround it.  Since I grew up as an East Coast boy, these trees simply fascinated me.

We happened to see a cross section of one of the fallen sequoias, which had numerous scars on it that showed it survived 9 fires in the course of its life.  Apparently, fires were good for the sequoia because it cleared the land of the other trees (allowing more sunlight & rain) and the heat allowed the seeds to expand and to be released in the area.  This provided optimal surroundings for the sequoias to flourish in the area.  Without the fires, the trees would not have grown so large.

Life certainly has its own fires, struggles, griefs, pains, conflicts, and traumas.  Some are minor inconveniences while others are real-life nightmares.  All cause enough grief to know that to experience the fires means getting burned, something to avoid at all costs.

Physical pain is something we try to avoid, but if we know it is for the better, we will be willing to endure it.  We’ll endure a dental filling so we can eat without further pain, surgery to repair our bodies so we can live or function better, or even endure strenuous exercise so we can look better.

Emotional pain, however, is a different story.  Emotional pain cuts to the heart of who we are.  To feel the emotional pain of rejection and worthlessness, or grieve losing someone so close…or to feel the emotional pain of guilt, shame, fear or loneliness…these are the parts of ourselves that we either hate to feel or fear to feel.  So we avoid it.  Perhaps we fear being fully exposed to others or fear that we truly are worthless.  If others truly knew what went on inside of us, we believe we would die.  Perhaps we are afraid of being down so low that we will never recover.  Maybe we are fearful that we will lose everything or believe that to feel such feelings make us less manly (for men) or even human.  These feelings are uncomfortable and we hate to feel them.  So what do we do?  How do we deal with them?

Everyone has their own way, but typically, we deal with our feelings by not directly dealing with them.  Rather than acknowledging what we feel and addressing them based on the circumstances, we act on them. Instead of telling someone we are hurt because of what they said or did, perhaps we will take it out on others or ignore them.  Rather than admit we are depressed and work on the why’s, we will eat ice cream or chocolate, drink alcohol, look at pornography, watch TV, play games, sex, listen to music, anger, etc. etc.  Rather than turn to a loving and actively interested God, we turn to other things to deal with our emotional struggles, and often those things become our go-to vices, some of which are addictive.

The Psalms are excellent examples of men who felt the frustrations of this life who struggled with the difficult emotions amidst the trails of their lives.  In dealing with emotions, David (and other Psalmists) wrote their anguish and struggles down and how they were able to get to the other side of the struggle emotionally.  The emotions written in the Psalms were not considered only positive emotions, such as joy and contentment, but also emotions of frustration and anger, of sadness and distress (22, 1-2; 55:4-8), and of sorrow and guilt (51, 38).  He was willing to talk to God about his complaints (64:1-6), to seek God when life seemed unfair (41:1-2), and even let out some anger and some unwholesome desires for God to smite those who have done evil (58:6-8).  He sought the Lord crying out for mercy (51:1) and sought the Lord when crying out for a savior (69, 70).

In the Psalms, all emotions that are present are worked through, but they are dealt with in relation to God.  As Christians (and an encouragement to those seeking), our emotions (positive and negative) are best dealt with in relation to God.  As we read through the Psalms, we see that ultimately it wasn’t simply the expressions of the emotions to God (though that is the first step), but the promise of His character – His strength, justice, love, mercy, and patience – is what brought the Psalmists through the fires.  As a result, they grew stronger in their lives and in relationship with the Lord, thus being able to “deal” with life’s fires emotionally and physically.

Like the sequoia, life’s fires have the opportunity to help us better grow as we learn how to deal with these fires in relation to God.  If we were to deal with the fires without Him at the center, we may miss valuable opportunities to flourish in Him and in life…and the seeds of our life-changing witness may not take root into other’s lives.  How do you deal with all of life’s fires?  How do you deal with your negative emotions (sadness, anger, guilt, frustrations, shame, grief, anxiousness, distress, and sorrows)?  Don’t simply avoid them, drown them, silence them, or ignore them, but process them…and remind yourself who God is…He is love.  He is good.  He is strong.  He is just.  He is faithful.  He is trustworthy.  He is God.

Is this the Real Peace of God?

Peace2bOver the years, I’ve had the privilege of counseling many people from both the church and at Foundations.  When going through struggles personally or in marriage, many of the clients shared at some point that they felt at peace with God. What is baffling to me is how people can feel at peace when their actions have been contrary to the Word.  What exactly does this mean?  Can there be a peace from God when actions are contrary to Scripture? Or is there only peace when one is acting in accordance with Scripture?

In the spirit of Paul’s explanation of “Godly Sorrow” vs “Worldly Sorrow” as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:10, I’d also like differentiate Peace in the same manner:  Godly Peace vs Worldly Peace.

Godly Peace, or peace that comes from God, occurs when our actions are consistent with His Word.  Our actions, of course, stem from an internal belief that God is trustworthy, loving, all knowing, all powerful, faithful, all present, etc.  When our decisions are based in our trust on His character, then no matter what happens, we are at peace because we know His way is best, wise, in accordance to His will, and that all will work out for our good.

Fourteen years ago my one son was only a day or two old when he had multiple surgeries.  We received a phone call from the Doctor stating that he took a turn for the worse.  I remember praying to the Lord and receiving that peace that passes understanding (Php 4:7).  This is the peace that you get when the situation seems bleak, but you feel at peace because you know it’s in God’s hands.  At that time, I simply trusted in Him.  I didn’t know the outcome of the situation, but I knew Who held the outcome. Whatever the outcome was going to be, He would turn it into my good as He promised (Rom 8:28).

Trust in the One who is good and faithful is where Godly Peace comes from.  It is not looking at any possible outcomes, but at the One who will turn the outcome into our good, and for His glory.

Worldly Peace is the peace that comes when our consciences and hearts have become hardened to God’s Word.  We see this often in those who have not proclaimed Christ and live their lives apart from Him.  They don’t see God’s Word as Truth, as God’s Word of Love to be obeyed, but instead have set up separate morals and values and feel at peace when they follow these morals.

But this Worldly Peace is not simply a peace that is experienced by those outside Christ, but it has also been experienced by those inside Christianity as well.  One example I have seen too frequently is when a wife leaves or divorces her husband for reasons that are not mentioned in Scripture (it can be the other way around, of course).  There has been no infidelity or abandonment by the spouse, nor has there been abusive situations at all (this reason isn’t specifically mentioned in Scripture, but one can make a really good case for it), but the wife, after prayer, etc., comes to the conclusion to leave her spouse and feels a peace about it.  At times, even claiming that this peace if from God.

Where does this peace come from?  Can this peace come from God when it contradicts His Word?  Would the Holy Spirit give someone peace when they disobey God?  I would argue that such peace is not a Godly Peace, but a Worldly Peace.  It is a peace that comes when one deceives themselves into thinking that God wants them to be happy. It occurs when passages of Scripture are twisted to fit into justifying what someone really wants…to be happy.  This person is essentially doing what they feel they need to do for themselves.  Often conclusions are made and Scriptures are found and interpreted in favor of the person so that he or she believes their actions are OK with God.

When this happens, the person then believes that their peace is a Godly Peace.  The self-deception continues and lives and relationships are broken when decisions are made as a result of this peace.

So, how can we know our peace is a Worldly Peace or a Godly Peace?  Approach the answer In humility.  If you are honestly asking the question, be ready for honest answers.  Ask the Lord for His wisdom when interpreting Scriptures.  Ask Him to search your heart and mind.  Would you honestly be willing to do whatever His Word says or do whatever He wants but __________?   Ask a mature believer, pastor, or Biblical Counselor their thoughts and interpretations of various passages you are looking at to see if you are justifying your position or decision.  Since Worldly Peace comes from a hardened heart, ask Him to give you a heart of flesh towards the person you are angry with.  Pray for them.  Do loving acts for them.  Ask God to help you to see them as He sees them.

So, is the Peace that you feel a Godly Peace, or is it a Worldly Peace?

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly.

Confessions of a Professional Christian

prayingIf you’ve been around the Christian environment long enough, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s not about religion.  It’s about a relationship.”  This is a true statement. Many people just go to church and “do” the professional Christian thing.  Arrive at church.  Sing. Listen. Leave. And then live their lives with God on the back burner.

There have been times (too many) when I’ve done this very same thing.  In fact, I often find myself going back to this default setting, even though I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ.  Christianity has been a way of life for me for the almost 30 years.  I loved going to youth group and hanging with friends as I was well-known and liked (at least, I believe I was).  I went to a christian college and remained in the culture of Christianity where I made new relationships, found a great Christian woman to marry, was elected as elder and eventually, elected as Associate Pastor.  Why? Maybe because I’m a good Christian and fit the mold.  After all, I speak Christianese very well and listen to Christian radio all the time.

Honestly, it’s been easy for me to live the Christian life.  Not that there haven’t been tough times.  There have been.  But, overall, it’s been easy.  Too easy.  Christianity can become a way of life more than anything, especially for the child being brought up in a Christian home.  I find myself living so much within the culture of Christianity that I sometimes forget to focus on that which really matters…my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I sometimes even believe that I can handle situations with the knowledge I have as a professional Christian. Sad thing is, I know I am not alone.  You may be like that, too.

As a counselor, I challenge people to involve Jesus into their struggles and work on their relationship with Him.  Read a Biblically based book, read Scriptures, pray often, seek Him, etc.  But as a “Professional Christian,” having all the good Christian pat answers are frequently on the tip of the tongue.  I can’t help but ask myself, rather frequently in fact, if I practice what I preach, why I do what I do, whether my fly is down before I preach, and whether my faith is as real as I show it to be.

A few months ago, I was challenged by a friend to make sure my relationship with Jesus is real and I’m not just playing the cultural Christian.  I’ve altered his advice to make it as an acrostic, because that’s what we professional Christians and Pastors do to help us remember (I need all the help I can get!).  So, without further ado, here is one way to keep it real between Jesus and Me:

T — Thoughts – What have I been thinking about today?  What are my worries and concerns?  What keeps popping up in my mind?                         Tell Jesus

H — Heart – What am I feeling? Am I afraid? Worried? Sad? Excited? Depressed? Confused? Anxious?                                                                     Share with Jesus

A — Answer – What does God’s Word say about my concerns and feelings?  What words of His will I need to apply in my life?                                              Listen to Jesus

N — Name – What is the name of God that rings most true for me? “Prince of Peace”? “Jehovah Jireh”? “I Am”? “Alpha & Omega”?                               Trust in Jesus

K — Kingdom – Whose Kingdom will you live in today?  The kingdom of me or the Kingdom of God?  Whom will you serve?                                     Follow Jesus

S — Share – Will you be open and honest with these things with the Lord and share what the Lord is doing in your life with others?                                     Testify about Jesus

Truth be told, I don’t do this as an everyday activity…but it is a challenge to you and to me to make it real with Christ and not just play the cultural Christian game of life.  We need Him more than we need to play the game of Cultural Christianity.  We need Him because our default settings are to turn back to sin and to remain comfortable in being cultural Christians.  My friends, continue to pursue Christ and not Christianity.  After all, it’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship…a real relationship with Jesus.

Considering Suicide (Part 1)

national suicide preventionYes.  I’ve considered it.  I was 12 or 13 at the time.  New home.  New school.  No friends.  I was shy and overweight.  Girls? Well, I was just starting to notice the girls, but they didn’t really notice me.  They were nice and all, but no romantic interest (as if 12 year-old’s know anything about being romantic).  I was depressed and I remember thinking with a knife to my chest, “If this was what life was going to be like, I don’t want to live anymore.”

Many of us have considered suicide.  Many have “succeeded” in the task to end their lives on earth, but they failed everyone else around them.  Many have “failed” in their attempts at suicide, but in their failure, they have gained so much more in life.  For me…I failed. And I am so grateful to God that I did!

If you’ve considered suicide or are considering it, you are not alone.  Not only because others have thought it and desired it, but because God is near to you, loves you, and has a plan for you.  It may not feel like it.  But it’s true.  He also gives answers in His Word to help you as you consider it.  Let’s look at one man who considered suicide in the bible and what this shows us about considering suicide.

In Acts 16:25-34, there was a man, a jailer overseeing the inmates Paul & Silas & others, who was about to end his life because he didn’t measure up to his assigned duties.  

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  

The jailer failed. He knew his life was over when he thought the prisoners had escaped. As a punishment, the governing authority would kill him for his negligence, so instead of letting his life be in the hands of others, he sought to take matters into his own hands.  But just before he was about to kill himself, an intrusive, yet important voice enters his hearing…

But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Have you heard this intrusive voice?  “Stop!”  “Don’t do it!” “Things will get better!” – Maybe it’s in your mind or maybe the voice of a trusted friend.  Listen to this voice!!!  It’s so easy to listen to the other voices (audible or inaudible) that say “It won’t get better.”  “This life stinks!”  “Everyone will be better off when I’m gone.” “No one loves me, so I might as well end it now.” Etc, etc.   These voices do not speak truth, but are lies based on feelings and perceptions.

Paul then states, We are all here!  This is such a small and often overlooked statement, but it has huge ramifications.  There is only one thing the jailer needs to hear right now… only only one thing that can get him to stop in his tracks…Truth.  His decision to commit suicide is based on what he perceives, but not on what really is.  The overwhelming circumstances he is encountering is entirely based on his perception.  The jailer doesn’t see the whole picture. Why? First, he was sleeping, so he didn’t know what happened while he was in dreamland.  Second, it was still dark in the jail.  When he awakes, he sees the cell doors open and assumes all have escaped.  Paul’s statement, “We are all here,” is more than a informative statement of their presence, but a declarative statement that it is not as bad as you perceive it to be!  Do you hear that?  It is worth repeating.  It is not as bad as you perceive it to be!

When considering suicide, the bigger picture fades into the impossible and unreal while perception becomes truth.  In the darkness, the jailer did not see the whole picture, but only a small portion.  The most urgent thing on his mind was how much he failed (sleeping on duty, open cell doors) and what his future would be due to his failings (being put to death).  This was a loss of hope.  Not wanting to suffer through the humiliation, his rash decision almost led to his ultimate failure – giving up on life.  It was only when he stopped to listen to the voice and opened his eyes to the truth that his life began to change.

Just when he thought his future was over, his decision to keep going by faith produced hope, peace, and joy in his life.  Click here for “Considering Suicide – Part 2” for the continuation of the jailer’s story as recorded in Acts 16.  

If you are considering suicide, seek help – we all need it sometimes.  You may click on the picture above or call the number listed on the picture to talk with someone who can help!

If you would like this presentation to be given at your church or youth group, please contact us at info @ foundchristcounsel. org or by calling 570-402-5088 (ext 0).

 

The Teen Challenge – Life As A Christian Teen

The following blog is from my nephew, our guest blogger, David DeLeon (16).

The battle of being a Christian teen is challenging. When a battle is fought and won, our character grows because we have learned how to overcome the enemy in a specific situation. When a battle is fought and lost, we stumble, but we can still learn from our mistake and grow stronger. This battle as a teen is a battle of the mind and it is an intense battle between the teen and the devil. It is essential for a teen to know what he or she is up against before the teen finds oneself miserably defeated.

For me, I had fallen into many temptations that looked good, at least for myself. Little did I know, the devil was playing with my mind. There are five main plans that the devil had against me and has against everyone:

DIVERSION:  Diversion makes the wrong things seem attractive so that you will want them more than the right things.

DEFEATED:  Feeling defeated means that you feel like a failure so that you don’t even try. I had felt so defeated after every mistake that I could not bring myself to try to overcome my mistakes.

DELAYING: In this case, the devil makes you put off doing something so that it never gets done. When I was in the process of not trying to overcome my mistakes, I began to just stop me and God time. I began to delay prayer, bible reading, and almost all communication with God.  The decision to be away from God will often result in a downhill spiral of feeling an overwhelming state of being alone, or dead to the world, or isolated, or unworthy, or hopeless, or unloved.

DISCOURAGEMENT:  Discouragement makes you look at your problems instead of God.

DOUBT:  Doubt, in my opinion, is the most dangerous weapon that the devil possesses. Doubt makes the right seem wrong in a ponderous confusion of the mind. Imagine you mind rejecting the very reason of your existence. That is what teenagers do sometimes for whatever their own reasoning is. Many varieties of doubts tend to come across the mind of a teenager. For example, “Am I worth anything?” “Is there really a God full of love and grace?” “Is there really that love that is so pure and divine?” Even the most simplistic questioning of God can easily lead to a person deciding to go their own direction based on the lack of trust invested in God.

“Life is a walk in the desert… until you reach the everlasting stream.” This is a personal quote I made for myself as reminder as I go through my teen years and the rest of my life. Sometimes I feel that I am walking aimlessly through a dry desert. I am in search for water. My mouth is dry, and I start to believe that I will not survive much longer as I lie on the hot, sizzling sand. When all seems lost, I cry out for God, and God pulls me up and gives me a drink. I feel my strength increasing more than ever. I feel refreshed. I feel renewed. Once again I am up on my feet.

Through the battles in life, whether you are a child, teen, or adult, God is the everlasting stream. God will not leave you thirsty, or unloved, or alone as long as you trust and follow him. He is the way, the truth, and the light in all darkness. It is a challenge as a teen to live life how God wants us to live, but God offers his hand to all people.  We just need to take his hand.

Image

Finding Hope Through Grace Part II: A Relevant Co-Sufferer

hope

Pain and hopelessness are feelings that are common to everyone. It is a good possibility that one of the earliest memories of your childhood includes a “crisis” that brought on significant amount of pain. The fact that we live in a broken world with broken relationships assures us we will not walk very far into life without experience a significant amount of pain. Even in scripture we see pages after pages of lives that are filled with pain. Take Job for instance, or King David. They were true men of God yet their lives were full of intense pain. How did they find hope to carry them through their suffering?

In Part 1 we talked about the importance of perspective and how it can change our outlook on a situation. Balaam was angry at his donkey for not moving forward, until God opened Balaam’s eyes (Numbers 22).  Balaam’s anger quickly turns to remorse and gratitude for God’s grace in sparing his life.  I can frequently respond in anger because of painful situations that occur in my life or I may become anxious and feel hopeless when my life does not seem to be going the way I want it to. However God has to frequently enlarge my perspective to understand what He is doing in my life.

The psalms frequently display this larger perspective that is given by God. In Psalm 142 we see David crying out to God about his troubles in a very personal and direct way (1-4). He asks God to come into the midst of His suffering and acknowledges that only God can truly rescue him (5-6). Another interesting point about this Psalm is that his desire is to praise and worship God and not simply to relieve his symptoms. Even though the Psalm ends in the midst of the suffering experience with no response from God, there is a sense of hope. David is comforted not by God taking away his present suffering, but by reflecting on the person of God, “for you will deal bountifully with me”.

There is no person or thing that can provide more comfort than leaning into the arms of a gracious God. I know I am saved by God’s grace and I am daily reminded that I need God’s grace to continue in life, but the Grace that gives me the most hope is the Grace that I look forward to. As God’s children we have been promised every spiritual blessing in “heavenly places” through the person of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3).

God often has to remind me that here on earth I am to expect suffering because sin has left its thumbprint on the earth I walk on, the body I live in, and the relationships I interact with. God is in the process of restoring me to Himself and at times that means suffering, but I have a confident hope that one day I will see Him face to face and finally experience the full Grace of God. Then I will see clearly as all my suffering is put into perspective by HIS GRACE which He has LAVISHED upon me (Eph. 1:7-8). If you want to know the hope God provides through the riches of His Grace cry out to Him and invite Him into your suffering.

Psalm 142

You Are My Refuge

A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.

 1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;

with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,

you know my way!

In the path where I walk

they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see:

there is none who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living.”

Attend to my cry,

for I am brought very low!

Deliver me from my persecutors,

for they are too strong for me!

Bring me out of prison,

that I may give thanks to your name!

The righteous will surround me,

for you will deal bountifully with me.

Christ-Reflecting Biblical Counseling: Part 2

bibleIn Part 1 of Christ-Reflecting Biblical Counseling, I shared how true Biblical Counseling reflects Christ in that it is to be 1) administered humbly, must include 2) sharing God’s Word as it is intended, and that it must be 3) clothed in compassion and love.  Part 2 below continues my thoughts on how to model Biblical Counseling after Christ.

4.  True Biblical Counseling is Discipleship-Oriented.  When we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that he spent much of his time with his disciples, teaching them about God and showing the power, love, and grace of God to them through relationship.  It is true that Jesus did not disciple all of his followers in the same manner, that is, in sharing the secrets of the Kingdom of God like he did with the 12 disciples.  Jesus did not, after all, have all the time to do so with everyone.  He knew that after his death, another counselor would come…the Wonderful Counselor (Holy Spirit)…to speak truth into the lives of his followers.  Meanwhile, he trained the twelve so that they, too, would in turn train and disciple others.  2 Corinthians 1 shares how we who are comforted by God can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we received from God.  Yes, even the comfort we received in counseling from God.  Lord willing, the result of biblical counsel will be that our clients will lead others to God with the comfort they received.  Biblical Counseling is about walking with people and helping them understand God and His character, love, and will.  And they, in turn, will do the same for others.

5. True Biblical Counseling is in the world…but not of it.  We know that Jesus came from heaven.  He was in the world and knowledgeable of all that is in the world, yet his answers and healing did not come from the world, but from the power of God.  This is one area where there is some division in Biblical Counseling.  How should biblical counseling not be of the world?  Where does one draw the line?  Does this mean to avoid all psychotropic medications, doctors, pscho-therapy, etc. and look to Scriptures and God alone for healing?   Is depression & anxiety only of the world and therefore is sin?

Theologians have a term called total depravity, which means that our entire being is completely fallen due to original sin.  Therefore, our bodies, minds, emotions, etc. are in a less-than-perfect state.  So how do we cope with this?  How do we counsel with this knowledge?  I believe we must approach these issues humbly.  Although Scriptures do not speak of clinical depression or anxiety, they certainly speak to depression and anxiety.  Yet since our entire bodies, minds and emotions are affected due to original sin (not necessarily personal sin), would we not seek to enter a state of normalcy in going to the doctors as well?  If we have cancer in the body (from original sin), would we not seek treatment?  If we have depression, which is in the emotions and mind (or the spirit), would we not seek treatment to return to normalcy? Jesus himself said that the sick need a doctor (Mt 9:12) and he did not speak out against it.  In Biblical Counseling, to ignore that the affects of original sin also include the mind/brain/emotion and not simply the body may lead to simplifying our counsel, which could also lead to death in extreme cases (i.e. counseling a seriously depressed person who decided to commit suicide after it was advised by the counselor to not take medications because medications are “of the world” and not God).  Recommending someone to speak to a Psychiatrist is not, in my opinion, being of the world, but recognizing the total depravity of humanity.  Biblical Counseling becomes of the world, however, when it reflects humanity’s wisdom and models for change, when the counsel leads people to finding answers within themselves and apart from God, when the counsel leads them towards personal happiness and not towards holiness, and when the counsel reflects more cultural answers than biblical answers.  Biblical counseling must be Christ centered, because the bible is Christ-centered.  A counsel that fails to be Christ-centered is a counsel that is culture-driven…a counsel that is of the world.