Monthly Archives: October 2014

Patching Cracks Vlog Episode One: Stealing Daddy’s Seat, a Comment on James 4

This is the very first Patching Cracks video blog. It’s new to me, so let me know what you think.

james sermon click

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Understanding Pornography Addiction

Cycle_of_AbuseIt’s easy to understand how alcohol or cocaine are addictive substances, but when it comes to pornography addiction understanding the issues involved can be more difficult for a variety of reasons. For starters, discovering a hidden pornography habit can result in significant feelings of betrayal for a wife and can make understanding the addiction component very difficult. In addition, pornography use carries some stigma, which clouds perspective and makes understanding the addiction more difficult. However, pornography addiction is a real illness, it’s diagnosable, and it’s treatable. Looking at pornography produces similar brain functions that take place with using cocaine. It is highly addictive for the same reasons as any other drug. This is not to excuse the betrayal of a spouse or anything of the sort. Rather, it is to say that an individual can develop an illness, which prevents them from quitting the behavior. Let there be no mistake, addicts cannot stop a behavior on their own. Denial, thinking errors, shame, and an out-of-control reward response system in their brains literally result in the addictive patterns becoming compulsive.

A behavior is an addiction, rather than just being a set of sinful decisions, if it features certain common qualities:
  1. Increased tolerance– Increased tolerance as it relates to pornography use involves getting into increasingly harder-core porn or much more of it in order to achieve the same results that were achieved with less before. Increased frequency of use can also be associated with increased tolerance.
  2. Withdrawal- Withdrawal from pornography use can involve cravings, restlessness, anxiety, depression, etc. Withdrawal doesn’t necessarily happen instantly. It can take as much as a week or more to fire up.
  3. Continued use despite harm- When an addict recognizes that their addiction is hurting them, they continue to use. They may get caught, feel shame, or other negative effects, but they do not stop, largely because they cannot.
  4. Using more or for longer periods than intended- This is essentially a loss of control. A pornography addict will struggle with limiting their use. They may intend to look for only a few minutes, but then spend hours using porn. Addicts often comment that they are never really sure how long their using episodes may last.
  5. Attempts to control use- Pornography addicts may swear over and over again that they will never use again, but they will inevitably find themselves using again. They may try to come up with ways to prevent themselves from looking at porn, but they will inevitably find ways around these measures.
  6. Excessive time spent acquiring pornography or thinking about using– People who become addicted to pornography find themselves spending more and more time thinking about using it or hunting for new and different porn. This is especially the case for those who are hiding their addiction from family members, which then requires them to spend enormous amounts of time protecting their addiction by hiding it.
  7. Reduced involvement in work, social, or family obligations- Pornography addiction becomes increasingly time consuming as the addiction advances in severity,  withdrawing from obligations as they get in the way of using.

In order to be diagnosed as an addiction, the individual must exhibit three or more of these criteria.

Dealing with the problem is uniquely difficult for pornography addiction for several reasons. For starters, hiding pornography use from a spouse is much easier than hiding substance abuse. As a result, treating the addiction can involve revealing some huge and hurtful secrets. In addition, pornography addiction is far less recognized and exists more in the shadows of our culture. Consequently, there are far fewer support group and treatment options. This is not to say that pornography addiction is a hopeless situation. Dealing with it begins with acknowledging that the problem has gotten out of control and turning control of your life over to God. Seeking help from an addictions counselor, a pastor, or a support group is a good next step. There are several terrific resources available as well. I highly recommend the book: Sampson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood by Nate Larkin. It is the best book I have read on the subject that is written for the average man.

Pornography addiction is treatable and there is hope. Further, as long as the addiction is out of control and untreated, the addict will live with a significant degree of fear and shame. There is also a constant danger of discovery, particularly by any children who live in the home. Early exposure to pornography by a parent is very common among addicts, largely because kids find their way into all sorts of things that you never intend for them to get into. Taking the first difficult steps toward dealing with addiction are difficult, but worthwhile once the painful early stages have been worked through.

For its part, the church needs to learn to look past the inclination to judge, protect the privacy of those seeking help, and learn to offer help to addicts who are seeking help. This may require specialized training and some uncomfortable topics being addressed from the pulpit at times, but its part of our calling to be salt and light to the world.
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Competing With My Wife

267685_10151393255501835_1082856663_nSeveral months ago, my wife and I ran in the Montana Spartan Race, a 5-mile obstacle course race. I ran in the race last year and initially signed up again to try to beat my time. My wife signed up as well and we both set out to prepare for event. About halfway through the training process, my wife asked me if I would run the race with her. My initial response was “no.” I had set out with a goal and was quite intent on achieving it. Running with my wife would not likely make my goal reachable. As time passed, I began to reflect on this decision in relation to my job as a husband. Ultimately, I realized that the decision came down to whether it was better to try to accomplish my own goals or to help my wife reach her goals.

10246306_10152054429836835_5303789864703335495_nThere is a line in Ephesians that talks about the idea that husbands are the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Many folks have read this as meaning that men have the right of dictatorship in their marriage. I would argue that to understand the passage in this way is to ignore the context. Scripturally, Jesus’ role in relation to the church is that He dies for it. Jesus demonstrates leadership by serving. He lives out the attitude He has toward the church when He washes his disciples feet at the last supper, literally doing the job reserved for the lowest servant in the household. Jesus instructs His followers to emulate His attitude. If this is the attitude of the head of the church and the Bible says that husbands are to emulate the head of the church in relation to their wives, then it follows that husbands ought to have an attitude of service and humility in relation to their spouse. This attitude of service is rooted in love. Further, it is an attitude that is aimed, not just toward serving, but toward preparing the church to be found holy and sinless before the Father. Jesus’ ultimate act of service is to offer his life as a sacrifice from the sins of the world. Certainly no husband can imitate that example, but husbands can live their lives to help their wives grow into the sort of clean spotless bride they were designed to be.

10353550_10152063252201835_6463084067521874879_nI would argue that this is not an easy task for husbands. Men are hard-wired to strive for accomplishments and to compete. Even further than this, our culture highly values accomplishment and success. These are not inherently bad things. They can be negative if the accomplishments and measures of success are misaligned. The Bible presents the idea that the greatest among Jesus’ followers are those who happily assume the position of the least and the servant of all. For husbands and fathers, this is the path assigned to them by the scriptures. We are to serve our families and sacrifice of ourselves for their benefit. We are to help our families grow personally and spiritually.

In the end, I changed my mind and ran the race with my wife. I encouraged her, cheered her on, and even helped
her a little. I did not accomplish my goal of running the race faster than last year, but I did accomplish my goal of being the kind of husband God is calling me to be, even if it took me a few months to figure out that that was what I really wanted. It’s much better to run the race with my partner than to run the race alone.

Originally Published In the Big Sandy Mountaineer 5/14

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UnCommon Sense: Is Your Wisdom Godly or Worldly?

James 3

Everyone assumes that they have common sense and are wise. Recently, I have noticed that self-assuredness is incredibly common in our culture. You see it in memes on Facebook, proclamations that the poster has more sense than the rest of the world. Bumper stickers proudly proclaim the driver’s amazing sense compared to the population at large. At the foundation of many arguments and articles is the assumption that the wisdom drives the position of the author, whereas the other political party’s adherents live with their heads in the sand. This self-assuredness, often without reflection, is spoken of in the book of James. James uses the word “wisdom”, rather than common sense, though the concept is similar. Wisdom is knowledge that translates into action.

James 3:13-18 describes two kinds of wisdom: worldly wisdom and wisdom that is from God. These two kinds of wisdom differ in their orientation and in their results. Noting the results of wisdom is important because in the passages preceding, James writes at length about the tongue and how loosely spoken words can create havoc in the church, comparing these loosely spoken words to sparks that ignite a forest fire. Wisdom is the source of the thinking that drives our words. As such, we can look at the result of our spoken words and get a hint as to what sort of wisdom lies behind them.
2 wisdomWords that create chaos can be easily identified because they breed conflict, anger, and infighting in the body of Christ. Words that create chaos and destruction are likely rooted in worldly wisdom.
Words that make peace tend to spread the gospel, and create unity in the body of Christ.  These are the sorts of things James points to as coming from words that are steeped in Gods wisdom.
The major focus of verses 13-18 is the source and characteristics of worldly and Godly wisdom.
Worldly wisdom: Wisdom that is worldly is self-centered. James describes this as bitter envy and selfish ambition. Both of these are focused on what the individual wants for themselves and the emotional drives that motivate the individual. If the desire to be right breeds misery and anger over others not recognizing the value, rightness, awesomeness, or importance of you or your words, worldly wisdom is at play. The final component described here is boasting, which is essentially bragging over how smart, sensible, or right you   are. Such self-aggrandizing is described as a lie, because it is proclaiming wisdom that isn’t Godly Wisdom. James goes on to describe this sort of wisdom as being essentially the opposite in origin from Godly wisdom. James closes his comments regarding worldly wisdom by pointing out that wherever wisdom is driven by self-interest, you will find sinful behavior and disorder. The fruit of worldly wisdom is chaos.
Heavenly wisdom: Heavenly wisdom is first described as “pure” meaning “not sinful.” If wisdom arises out of any sort of rebellion against God, it isn’t heavenly. He goes on to describe it as peace-loving, considerate, submissive, impartial, and sincere. These qualities essentially point toward heavenly wisdom creating peace and harmony in the body. “Considerate” is best understood as flexible, or not rigid in personal preferences or opinions, something worth considering when a fight breaks out over whether the organ belongs in every song in the worship service. “Submissive” refers to submission to scriptural truth. Wisdom that is Godly essentially takes God’s design as the template for the world. “Impartiality and sincerity” refer to honest, loving treatment of others, regardless of their past, wealth, social status, etc. The final two ways James uses to describe heavenly wisdom are “merciful and full of good fruit.” “Mercy” refers to love for neighbors that translates into action, which consistently produces good fruit.
The final comment James offers on the matter of wisdom is “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Wise people seek peace and plant seeds of peace in the lives of others. The harvest they reap is right relationship with God and their family in Christ.
Self Examination: Earlier in his letter, James urges believers to look at the scriptures as though they were a mirror. We are directed to look at the scriptures and compare our own behavior and life to the ideal. The passage offers a few great pointers regarding what we are to look for in considering whether or not our wisdom is spiritual or worldly. Do we consider our own wants and interests first or those of others and of God? Does our aclick herettitude create chaos and conflict or do we make peace and encourage unity in the body of Christ? The answers to these questions tell us where our wisdom comes from. Most folks are wise in their own eyes, but this is very different from being truly wise.
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4 Tough Parenting Approaches that Work

10491278_10152091318686599_8769886226755773189_nWhile watching my kids play at the park yesterday, my daughter came running to me from under play structure, crying and rubbing her forehead. She had bumped her head on the underside of of the fire engine jungle gym. A hug, a kiss on the forehead, and and a few comforting words later, she was running around again. The most natural response to my little girl’s feeling pain, is offering comfort and doing the best I can to make it better. This is a natural response for parents. Protecting our children is programmed into our DNA. The most natural thing in the world is to hurt when our kids hurt and to try to fix it. Unfortunately, as time goes on, this instinct can get in the way of healthy development into adulthood. There are times when parents need to reign in their instinct and allow their children to struggle or hurt sometimes because its whats best for them.

There is a great line in in Proverbs:

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. 

Proverbs 13:24

Many folks read this as a direction to spank their kids. While this may be the case, disciplining your child includes far more than just spanking. Discipline is a wide ranging concept that is downright difficult for parents to follow through with, largely because it runs totally contrary to our inborn parental drive to protect and comfort. Here are four difficult forms of discipline every child needs, but parents are often reluctant to provide:

Natural consequences– Natural consequences are the natural, expected outcome of poor decision making. For example, if a child waits until the night before a project is due before they start working on it, 10624972_10152244365051599_3708616376640736165_nthen the natural consequence is a poor grade. All too often, parents see their child panicked the day before, and bail them out. At times this involves doing the work for them or calling them in sick for school the next day. These situations are teachable opportunities. Parents must decide if they will teach their child that someone else will always be there to bail them out, or if they will learn the hard lesson: “If you don’t do the work, you will fail.” This is one example, but of a huge area of teaching. If you watch people long enough, you will witness parents who attack teachers because their kids aren’t getting A’s, or demanding their kid gets to play a starting position on the soccer team, or any other situation where a parent shields their child from the consequences of their actions or failures. I’m not saying that helping your kid deal with consequences isn’t okay sometimes. Rather, I am saying that protecting them from everything teaches them to be sheltered.

Let them struggle– My little girl’s theme song right now is: “I need some help to do that.” It almost always starts playing when I ask her to do something she finds distasteful, like finishing lunch or cleaning up her toys. There are other times she tries to do things that she is just too small or young to do easily. In most instances it’s easier or seems more compassionate to help. I want her to think I will help her and take care of her. However, sometimes she needs to struggle in order to build perseverance and tenacity. If quitting is always an acceptable option, then queen she doesn’t want to do things, she’ll quit. Sometimes she needs to struggle through something difficult on her own in order to understand that the sweetest victories in life are the hard fought victories. One day my son will probably have to punch a bully in the nose. My daughter will need to practice piano for an hour a day to learn to play. Letting them face these hard situations and struggle through them creates character.

Let them fail- Our culture doesn’t seem to like letting kids lose or experience sad feelings. This has spawned sports leagues that don’t keep score and situations where kids are guaranteed success. How we deal with failure is easily as important as how we deal with success. Learning to fail and keep trying is very important, largely because there is little that can be accomplished in life without failing. Parents sometimes need to back up and let their kids fail. Its hard and heartbreaking, but its an important life lesson.

Praise their effort not their existence- I’m going to admit that this is really hard for me. I spend all kinds of time talking to my kids, and really love how they react to praise. The problem with this is that praise can train the wrong lessons into kids. We want them to feel good about themselves and be confident, but praise for things that are handed to them or not earned teaches them that they are great just for being. A far stronger lesson is praising them for the work they put in. If a child learns that their hard work is worthy and good, they will work hard. If they are perfect just for getting out of bed in the morning, they’ll expect praise for getting out of bed in the morning. Praising is good, it can reinforce behaviors. It must be used properly to be effective.

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5 Date Night Ideas for Couples Stuck in a Rut

IMG_1564After 16 years of marriage, my wife and I have noticed that it has become easy to fall into a rut with the time we spend together. For example, since the kids came along we have had begun doing the “grocery store date”, which involved going out for dinner, then going grocery shopping. This date pattern came about for fairly obvious reasons. It’s easier to go to the grocery store without the kids. If we already have a babysitter, why not have an easy night of buying groceries? On the plus side, it meets the basic requirement of spending time alone together.  The problem is that this outing isn’t particularly exciting and is really just doing home maintenance without the kids along. Dating your spouse should be about enjoying each other’s company and spending quality time together, unfortunately its easy for it to devolve into an obligation or routine.Because of this, we have put effort into coming up with new and novel activities to engage in on date nights that shift us out of our rut. Here are a few of our favorites:
  • First to pick up their phone loses- This one isn’t as much a game as a strategy for enjoying the evening. Cell phones have invaded so much of our interaction and demand a great deal of attention that it is easy to sit across from each other, surf the net, and never talk. This activity is aimed at curtailing this trend. It starts with a bet. Both partners select the stakes and the first to pick up their phone for any reason loses. Some decent stakes include: breakfast in bed for the winner, loser plans the next date, or the winner gets to sleep in while the loser takes care of the kids in the morning. It’s best to be creative and friendly with this. It’s also smart to set a special ringtone for the babysitter to prevent missing emergency calls.
  • Book Store Gift Shopping- One of my favorite date night games involves a visit to Barnes and Nobles with $30. Each of us takes half and spends 20 minutes picking out a book for the other. The book can’t be an obvious choice, but should 1480537_10151792771816835_1306916336_nreflect something that you think your spouse might find interesting, something that is a sort of project or activity work on together, or anything else that might spark conversation. Afterward we spend time talking about why we picked the book we picked and our reactions to the book we received. The important part of this game is spending time talking about it afterward and sharing reasons for picking the book. It can be adapted to other settings if you aren’t a reader. The game can be played in a mall or almost anywhere else.
  • Playing Games at Denny’s- This one may sound silly, but we have done it on more than a few occasions and find that it makes for a fun evening. You go to a restaurant that would generally expect patrons to sit for a little while, like Denny’s, Perkins, Tim Hortons, or a coffee shop. (We did this at a sports bar once.) Once seated you start a game. We have played dominoes, scrabble, and cards, though these are not your only options. Pick a game you both enjoy playing. It’s kind of neat to sit and play a game while being waited on. It’s particularly great to play a game without little hands grabbing the pieces or asking to help you play your side. If you tip well, most waitresses won’t mind if you sit for a while.
  • Walking- Early this year, my wife and I had a small window to go out. We visited a local restaurant. After the meal, we were at a loss as to what to do next because we live in a very rural area, with somewhat limited options for outings. I called a friend who owns some land on the river near our town. He directed us to a trail that ended at a cliff overlooking an island on the river. We walked a few miles along the trail, enjoyed the view, held hands, talked, and spent no money. Walking in parks, along trails, even through your neighborhood provides an opportunity to spend time together and just talk. Bring dessert or a picnic for dinner as well to enhance the outing.
  • Questions- Take turns asking questions. This may sound corny, but it provides conversation starters and can lead to knowing each other more intimately. Questions can be on any subject and should be answered to the best of your ability. Some questions I remember asking include: Best time we ever had together? Most memorable date? Favorite gift you’ve gotten from me? Really, the point of this is just to ask each other’s thoughts and feelings on different issues.
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Addictive Thinking Errors: Miracle Thinking

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This is a rewrite of a column I wrote that was published in the mountaineer in July of this year.

“If I could just move to Florida, then I’ll be happy.” These words were spoken by a young man I was working with in a rehab program. He was a drug addict, had a list of convictions longer than my arm, his family life was a disaster, he was financially destitute, his education and job skills were non-existent; but he firmly believed that a geographical relocation was going to solve all of his personal woes. In reality, moving would change nothing. You simply cannot run far enough away to escape yourself. He was his own problem. His drug addiction was destroying his life. However, the work needed to deal with the problems he had accumulated was far more daunting than simply moving. This is an example of miracle thinking. Miracle thinking is essentially when a person comes to believe that their problems will be solved by accomplishing a simple, often unrelated task.

Miracle thinking comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the common factor is that it generally doesn’t directly address or solve the presenting problem. It’s an easy option. I have spoken to people who believe that if they can just find Mr. or Mrs. Right then they’ll be content, or if they could just change jobs they’d be happy, or if they could get a new spouse they’d stop drinking. The specific form of the miracle can vary, but it usually involves externalizing blame for problems/feelings and a way out of the situation that is often unrelated and easier than dealing with the real problem. In reality, a single, depressed person who enters a new relationship may experience a flush of enjoyment, but will ultimately wind up depressed again. An alcoholic who moves to a new community will just find a new place and people to drink with.

Miracle thinking is a thinking error that is not confined to problems like chemical dependance. People use miracle thinking in relation to debt, marital difficulties, depression, weight problems, anger issues, and all sorts of other issues.

UnknownFiguring out if your solution to a problem is miracle thinking is difficult, and usually requires an outside opinion to help assess the thought. Outside feedback should come from a person who will be forward and honest enough to explain whether or not a planned solution is realistic or likely to pan out. In addition, the individual ought to have a history of making healthy choices. This sort of evaluation is especially important if an individual is dealing with an issue that is particularly difficult or if you recognize a pattern of drastic solutions that simply don’t work out.

The difficulty in self assessing thinking errors, like miracle thinking, is due largely to denial and clouded thinking that is typical among addicts. Self assessment is best accomplished by asking exactly how the solution will resolve the issue at hand. If the explanation is not likely to pan out as true, if evidence from past situations suggests that the solution is viable, or if it will not logically produce any real change; then it is likely miracle thinking. Its important to understand that miracle thinking isn’t a result of a person being crazy or broken. Instead, it comes about when a person’s thinking is clouded by strong emotions, stress, exhaustion, or mental protections of an addiction.

Regardless of whether or not miracle thinking is an issue, the practice of consulting with others for advice when dealing with major issues is a wise practice.
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5 Ways for Husbands to Sacrificially Serve Their Wives

husbands 2

Ephesians 5 is perhaps one of the most argued about scriptures in terms of male/female relationships. Arguments over who is in charge, what submission means, who owes who what, whether or not it is even relevant to modern matrimony, and all manner of other junk dominate the landscape of popular discussion of this passage. Interestingly, much of the discussion centers around a philosophical assumption regarding our rights in the marital setting. The question of who is owed what and what are my rights demonstrates something significant about how the discussion is being engaged. Namely, that the discussion is missing the point of Paul’s words. Paul isn’t talking about what each spouse is due. He is explaining how imitating Christ looks in the context of marriage. I’d love it if my wife submitted me, always treated me with respect, and had Proverbs 31 tattooed on her soul, but that is between her and Jesus. My job, and the job of every husband, is to love their wives like Christ loved the church and to prepare her to be presented to God as a pure, spotless individuals.

The specific meaning of this phrase cannot be missed. I cannot look at my wife as a subject, or someone who owes me something. Instead, I need to love and serve her sacrificially. I need to give of myself, selflessly and set aside my own desires for her benefit. Jesus washed his disciples feet to demonstrate the lowness of our attitude of service. In addition, he died for the church. As husbands, our job is to serve and to aid our spouse in spiritual growth. We are to help our wives become Christlike. If we spend time concerning over her responsibilities and what she owes us, we cannot fulfill this directive. Such thinking runs counter to it. This raises an important question of how do we follow through with this in a concrete way. I, like most men, like “to do” lists and concrete directives. Its easy to act when we know what we are supposed to do. Here are 5 things I have come up with for selflessly serving our wives:

Maintain our own spiritual health. The reality is that this is a humanly impossible task. People are naturally self-centered and selfish. Giving of self is not gonna be our strength for the long term. God understands this and makes a way for us through his Holy Spirit working in our lives. This is not instant, it requires spiritual growth. A decent place to start is reading about Jesus and talking to God. We must grow if we are to love and lead our wives.

Lead spiritually. Leading spiritually begins with praying for our wives. This is a daily task that prepares us to sacrificially love them. Worshipping with our wives is another important part. Far too often I see wives who bring their kids to church while husbands sleep in on Sundays. Leading spiritual growth in the family requires participation in the spiritual practices. A final component worth implementing is leading the spiritual development of the family through study, discussion, and family prayer.

Doing chores, without ulterior motives. Finding things that need to be done and doing them is service. Changing toilet paper rolls, doing laundry, bathing kids, or any other chore efforts are concrete shows of love and grace. It’s important that as these are taken on, it is with a heart of service and not in an effort to receive a reward. I cannot tell you how many men I have spoken with, who are frustrated when they do dishes, vacuum, or undertake any other household chore only to be angered when their wives don’t amorously reward them for their efforts. I’ll admit that I am guilty of this too. Serving selflessly means not seeking reward. Its a gift, not a job done in search of a reward. Wives aren’t stupid, they generally see through these ploys. Further, it ruins the blessing we bestow in our act of service. Selfless is the watchword here.

Giving them time away. It is easy for wives to feel overwhelmed by the constant demands that are made of them. This is particularly the case when kids arrive, because their demands on mommy’s attention can be nearly constant. I’ve found that one of the best acts of service I undertake is letting my wife nap or spend time to herself. Taking the kids to the park or out for an evening is one way. There are all sorts of others, like taking care of chores so she has no pressing concerns or planning time away from the house.

Courting her. After marriage it is so easy to stop romancing our wives. We don’t need to convince her to marry us, so we stop buying flowers, taking her out for dinner, talking for hours, listening to her share her feelings, hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc. There are many ways to demonstrate affectionate attention that show her how important she is to you. There is a caveat here. If these things are always done with selfish motives and in an effort to get her to reciprocate physically, it will ruin the whole thing. I’m not saying that sex isn’t important to marriage. Rather, that selflessly serving is just that. Shifting service and affection from being a gift we give to a commodity we trade is sort of the antithesis of Christlike behavior.

This is a brief list. It is by no means all encompassing. Its purpose is to get your brain moving in the direction of how to serve. The biggest key is doing it with right motive, which is a product of prayer and the Holy Spirit working in us.

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Music to My Ears

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Sitting at my desk, working on sermon materials for this week, I found myself listening to my 3-year-old singing. She changed the words to every song she sang as she played with her dolls and the tune was wobbly, but it is beautiful. The love I have for my little girl made the song as rich and beautiful as any choir. I believe one of the biggest blessings we receive as parents is the opportunity to catch an occasional glimpse of how God sees us. Even our best efforts are certainly less than those of the angels, but God loves us dearly. I’d argue that our praises are well received, harmonious or not.

6 Ways to Deal with Anxiety

Timageshis afternoon, I was sitting in the pharmacy in town reading. Something that I read, which was minor and not offensive, triggered an anxiety attack. Anyone who has ever had an anxiety attack can attest that they are no picnic. Typically, mine begin with my heart racing, my chest tightening, my brain shifting into high gear, jaws clenching shut, and my breath shortening. Sometimes these anxiety attacks pass quickly, but sometimes they leave me agitated for hours. I don’t have these attacks often, perhaps once a month or less, though in the past I’ve had them daily. Most folks I know who experience them recognize them as a little slice of hell.
Learning to deal with anxiety attacks has been a slow process. I tend to approach problems by wanting to know as much as possible, so I’ve researched the topic to death and have found that most materials are less than helpful. Through trial and error, I have found a handful of things that make a difference. Here is my top 6 and one to avoid:
man-114437_640Recognizing that anxiety is not the same thing as being crazy. The stigma associated with these sorts of issues can often be the biggest challenge that prevents you from dealing with the issue. Anxiety is not craziness. Anxiety attacks can be connecting to a handful of things. Often they are connected with the fight or flight mechanism in your brain. Certain stimuli become associated with the fear/fight or flight response and trigger it. That’s all. It’s actually a natural defense mechanism that part of your brain employs to protect you from danger. It’s just sometimes that mechanism is terribly inconvenient.
Exercise: Very little ends an anxiety attack for me as quickly as quickly as lifting weights, going running, or even going for a brisk walk. There are a few reasons that this is an effective strategy. For starters, exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are a sort of happy chemical in your brain. Endorphins will usually calm you and lift your mood. Regular exercise can actually help alleviate depression and decrease the frequency of anxiety attacks. The other thing that exercise does for you is physiological. Getting your heart rate up and using energy can burn off some of the nervous energy that causes anxiety attacks. Further, heavy breathing can help cleanse adrenaline and other chemicals from your blood.
Prayer, meditation, and deep breathing: I hate this one. Not because I hate prayer, meditation, or deep breathing in and of themselves. Rather, I wonder if the guys suggesting it have ever had an anxiety attack. It’s really hard to stop and be calm enough to pray or meditate. In general, however, regular prayer and meditation can help decrease the frequency of attacks. This is particularly the case when individual people or situations are triggers for anxiety attacks. Praying for those people can help lessen fear of dealing with them. In addition, learning to slow down and focus during anxious episodes, though difficult, can be effective. I suggest starting with deep breathing. It’s the easiest place to begin and, as I stated earlier, can help lessen symptoms. From focused breathing, prayer or meditating over scripture is a short step.
w8ytvvDiet: I have read that decreasing caffeine consumption can decrease frequency of anxiety issues. I’m not sure if giving up coffee would be worse than the attacks, so I have’t tried. I take fish oil pills, which research suggests can help reduce anxiety and encourages the production of serotonin.
Exposure: I’m gonna say it: this one is miserable, but can be effective. If a particular identifiable trigger causes anxiety attacks, you can actually decrease its impact on your by slowly exposing yourself to the stimuli in small doses. As you do so, you will eventually harden yourself to the trigger. For example, anxiety that is triggered by certain social situations can be lessened by increasingly exposing yourself to those situations. Doing so will slowly decrease the fear response. It’s essentially facing your fear. There are ways to do this more effectively, and a counselor might be helpful to guide you through the process.
Counseling and Medication: Unfortunately, the stigma associated with seeking help from a counselor often prevents folks from talking to them until the pain associated with anxiety becomes overwhelming. A good counselor can help a client learn skills that can effectively help a person cope with or eliminate anxiety issues or deal with the emotional issues that are at the root of the matter.
Self Medicating: Folks who suffer from anxiety problems sometimes resort to self medicating with alcohol or illicit substances. While alcohol can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, this approach is problematic because using mood altering substances as a primary coping response can lead to dependency. In general, developing a lifestyle that lessens their frequency and learning to cope with anxiety is a better strategy.
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