Category Archives: Church

7 Things Christians Need to Understand About Mental Illness


For 8 years, I worked in a residential treatment facility for kids with emotional disorders. I started the job after working as a Youth Pastor for several years. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started the job, but over the years, I learned a great deal about mental illness and its treatment. After just a few months I was a better youth minister and I understood more about working with people than I did in the previous 5 years of church work. The experience also prompted me to earn a masters degree in Pastoral Counseling while I was earning my MDIV and certifications for addictions treatment. I’m now finishing my fourth year as a small church pastor. Im not an expert by any stretch, but the mixture of my experiences and my educational background has taught me a great deal about how the church ought to respond to mental illness in our communities. The biggest challenges related to these efforts are a product of folks not understanding the nature of the problem and misunderstanding the need.

  • Mental illness is actually illness. It’s common for Christians to assume that folks who suffer from mental illnesses are faking it, that they just need to have more faith, or that they just need to toughen up. This just isn’t true. The reality is far more complicated. Mental illness is often the result of chemical imbalances, past trauma, conditioning, etc. The suffering folks experience is real. Orthodox Christians would never say that polio or arthritis are merely a matter of weak faith. The fact that mental illness takes place in the parts of a person that we cannot look at doesn’t make it less real or less an actual illness. 
  • It’s not a product of weak faith. We would never tell someone that their physical pain is a product of weak faith or not trusting God. However, there are Christians who would describe anxiety, depression, addiction, or PTSD with those same terms. God gives us the tools to treat physical ailments and we do not decry those who suffer or seek treatment as not trusting God. Struggles with emotional issues brought about by trauma or brain chemistry are just as uncontrollable and breed just as much misery. There is no weakness in seeking help.
  • People with mental illnesses suffer. No one would suffer from severe anxiety, clinical depression, addiction, or PTSD if they could just make it stop on their own. It is miserable. I have yet to meet anyone who suffers in these ways who wants it to keep going or thinks it’s no big deal. It is often utterly unbearable, driving them to suicide or self-medication. Their suffering is real and profound. 
  • Mental illness comes with significant stigma and shame. Many people hear “mental illness” and they get uncomfortable quickly. Our culture tends to look at sufferers with a degree of suspicion. This results in a great deal of shame and fear of judgement. They often don’t seek help or talk to family and friends about their struggles because they are afraid of how they will be perceived. 
  • Treating mental health problems involves actual medical procedures. It’s sometimes assumed that mental health treatment is just talking or that it’s coddling. However, therapeutic approaches, medications, and the other tools/techniques utilized by mental health practitioners are studied, tested, reviewed, and evaluated for effectiveness. Like any other medical procedures, mental health treatment is medicine. In addition, this means that, with help, sufferers can get better. They can overcome their issues. 
  • The church has a responsibility. One of the most reassuring aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry was his willingness to engage with folks who were sick, ashamed, and outcasts. For two millennia, the church has led the way in caring for the suffering of this world. Mental illness is a vast, under-addressed area for the church to serve. There are uncounted multitudes of our brothers, sisters, children, friends, and neighbors suffering in silence because they are ashamed or afraid. We have a responsibility to talk about these matters and work toward taking the stigma away from seeking help. Further, churches are uniquely positioned to provide care and comfort to folks who suffer. We need to invite folks in be prepared to help them when they arrive.
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Falling “Christian” Stars: Josh Duggar and the Cult of Christian Celebrity

IMG_7424With the recent release of hacker data stolen from Ashley Madison, a dating service for married people seeking to have an affair, and the revelations that followed; various tendencies in Christians’ responses have, yet again, sprung forth. Every time a minister or other prominent Christian is caught in some sort of malfeasance, certain responses are predictable. Perhaps the most troubling to me is the tendency to minimize or ignore sin. Jesus and the rest of the Bible tend to treat sin seriously. This is even the case for the “good guys” in the Bible. David, a man after God’s own heart, took it on the chin for his adultery and murder. Peter was called “Satan” in the rebuke of Jesus when he spoke out of his own interests. Paul repeatedly bemoans his own sin, calling himself the least of the disciples and repeatedly referring to his persecution of the church decades after it happened.
In broaching this topic, it’s important to acknowledge a hard truth in our culture: Western civilization likes to idolize people. Politicians, musicians, actors, directors, writers, activists, preachers, teachers, and whatever the Kardashians are (That last one didn’t trigger my spell checker… just take a moment to let that sink in!). We tend to look to these folks as infallible heroes. The problem that comes with trying to make anyone into a messiah is that they can’t save us, and they’re only human. There shouldn’t be any such thing as a celebrity Christian. This is not to say that folks of faith shouldn’t be in the public square and that we shouldn’t support them. Rather, we need to recognize that these folks are not God and shouldn’t be idolized. They’re fellow servants of our Master. When we worship anyone or anything that isn’t Jesus, we commit idolatry.
Some folks might object to my characterization of idolizing celebrities. To those folks I’d say: If you’ve spent more money on, quoted more, given more attention to, obeyed more faithfully,  talked about more often, or pointed others toward anyone or anything more than Jesus, it is an idol. I see this especially with celebrity pastors. For example, lots of folks quote one best selling mega-church pastor or another more often than he or they actually quote scripture. Worse still, it’s seldom acknowledge that many of them are preaching things that aren’t in harmony with the gospel. Rather, fans tend to treat their teachings as though they are the gospel themselves. We are often slow to compare sermons and books to the Bible ourselves because the light of truth exposes falsehoods.
There’s a handful of reasons that it’s easy to latch on to idols. For starters, we are fallen creatures. We rebel against God by nature. Worshipping an idol is a matter of the sinful heart, which will always tend to love the creation more than the Creator. Further, our culture is geared toward this sort of idolizing of men. It’s on our TVs, magazines, books, billboards, conversations around the water cooler, etc. It’s just there and it’s easy to fall in line with it.
The problem that will typically arise with idolizing men is what we see happening to Josh Duggar and have seen with countless folks before him. They turn out to not be God, and as a result, they will stumble or fail to be everything that God is. We will eventually wind up defending, ignoring, minimizing, whitewashing, or pointing fingers at the sins of others all in an effort to draw attention away from the reality that the thing/person we idolize isn’t sufficient to save or worthy of praise. Otherwise, we are forced to disown and destroy our idol. In short, we shoot our wounded. We’ve seen these reactions in the folks who tried to defend Duggar or ignore his failings, as well as those who tossed him under the bus when it turned out that he’s a sinner, too.
The solution is for believers to come to a point that we recognize that God is deserving of our worship and adoration in a way that no one else is. We must remind ourselves of this daily. When His people who live in the spotlight of public scrutiny fall short, we need to acknowledge sin for what it is and point to Christ. Further, we need to hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard than we hold the world.
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Sermon Link: From Rubble to Return

This week’s sermon on Nehemiah 10, dealing with the Jewish people’s community commitment to obey and submit to God’s law after returning from exile and restoring the walls of Jerusalem. The message looks at the Hebrews’ repentance, compares it to repentance in modern believers, and talks about how God provides restoration through faith in Jesus. 

Preached by Erik Sietsema at Big Sandy Community Church of God in Montana On 8/16/15. 

http://patchingcracks.sermon.net/main/main/20467287

Click the Image To Listen to the Message

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#OfficeArtifactWednesday: The Redneck Fish Finder… Thoughts On the Power of Words

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Anyone who has ever visited my office knows that it has always been filled with odds and ends. Little collections and keepsakes. A big part of the reason I collect things is to spur my thought processes. Being surrounded by odds and ends sort of feeds my short attention span and sometimes results in interesting thoughts. #OfficeArtifactWednesday is a weekly Facebook/Twitter posting I am doing to share a bit of what I’ve accumulate and some of how it makes me think. Let me know if you find it interesting.

For my first Office Artifact Wednesday item, I decided to share a picture of my redneck fish finder. 15 years ago I preached my first sermon in a church. During the sermon I told a joke about fishing with dynamite. The next morning, when I came into my office I found a bundle of wooden dynamite with the label: “Redneck Fish Finder.” There was no card or label. No one ever took credit for the gift. Someone thought enough of the anecdote (or me) to bring the knick-knack by and gift it to me. It has been a part of my office collection everywhere I have gone since. It is the very first office artifact.

Over the the last decade and a half of looking at the redneck fish finder on my desk everyday, my thoughts on it have changed. In the beginning I was encouraged that my story had caught someone’s attention. It was very encouraging for me as a young preacher. It’s not often that sermons illicit responses, so this has served as a bit of a reminder that folks are listening.

As time passed my perspective changed. The dynamite began to serve as a reminder of how powerful stories can be in conveying a point. I love telling stories and bridging them into principles or lessons. I’ll admit that I do this almost constantly, looking at things and considering how they can be used to illustrate an idea. I do this because stories can create deeper understanding. They can help people identify with what is being conveyed. They also draw in the listener’s attention. My fish finder always brings my mind back to this concept.

In the last few years, as I have finished seminary, studied the Bible more deeply, and worked with people more seriously, the fish finder has grown to reflect the reality that the things I say from the pulpit have the potential to make a huge impact on those I serve. I’ve spoken carelessly to folks and regretted it on more than one occasion. This is especially the case when preaching, because it involves standing in a spot where folks look to you to learn truth about God. The responsibility involved ought not to be taken lightly. Over the years I’ve known people whose words were like a carelessly tossed bomb in any situation: inflicting pain, provoking anger, and breeding dissension. I’ve also watched as preachers ignore the scriptures in favor of their own agenda and opinion, misleading folks for selfish gain. Being a professional talker (and a guy who tends to to talk too much) it’s important to remember the power of words and to choose them accordingly. Jesus once said: I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (Matt. 12:36) He also taught: “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  (Luke 17:1-20)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. Proverbs 17:28

Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. Proverbs 26:18-20
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Where In the World is the Proverbs 31 Woman: Part 1 Understanding the Background

goodwifeguide-331x268Over the past few years, I’ve read several articles arguing varying perspectives on the ideal wife portrayed in Proverbs 31. Most of these articles have argued the matter in terms of whether or not this woman is a standard model for wives and women everywhere to aspire to be the best housewife possible in serving her 1950s family or an allegory for wisdom so as to remove the unattainable ideal that just serves to discourage women into standardized gender roles. I’ll admit that these characterizations are hyperbole, but I am exaggerating the extreme sides of this debate for a reason: because this text has become a bit of a tug-o-war passage for folks in the battle over the role of women in the church. Each side pulling for a gender political stance and taking pride in their position, sometimes without bothering to ask whether or not they are glorifying Christ in their stance. My intent in this post is not to engage either of these positions, but rather to offer an analysis of the text with an eye on shedding a little light as to what believers are actually supposed to do with these passages.

Preliminary Issues: Genre, Audience, and Context
In advance of the discussion, there are a few important concepts that need to be understood as a lens through which we must look in interpreting the passage. The first is the genre of literature being discussed. Wisdom literature, and more specifically the proverb, is a specific genre that needs to be understood on its own terms. Reading Proverbs isn’t like reading the instruction manual for your toaster. It’s a highly defined style of writing, featuring multiple sub-genres. In this case, it’s important to recognize that the text is presenting an idealized truth. It is the same throughout the book. This idealized truth must be understood as such. It’s easy to recognize this when comparing the book to other wisdom texts. For example, read Proverbs straight through, then read Ecclesiastes or Job. All three are wisdom literature, but the three texts offer very different perspectives on the world. In Job, the righteous man loses everything and suffers despite being blameless. In fact, Job’s friends seem to reflect a position that might be supported by the book of Proverbs: If bad things are happening to you, you must have acted wickedly. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon declares some hard realities that seem to stand at odds with the more idealized book of Proverbs. There seems to be a contradiction between the books. However, this contradiction is pressing only if we rigidly look at the proverbs as absolute statements of truth or rules for the universe, instead of recognizing that ideals are being presented. To this end, it is important to recognize that this is an idealized version of women, a target to aspire to. It is not a list of hard and fast rules for wives. Rather, it is an ideal.

Further, the passage itself is Hebrew poem, written with a structure that gives hints as to what the main point is. For starters, each line of the text begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which points to the completeness of the truth being presented. Acrostics could also be used to aid in memorization. This is important because the book is intended to be instructional material for young men. Easy memorization would be a desirable feature. In addition, the poem itself has a Chiastic structure. This is when the first and last line parallel each other, the second and second to last line parallel each other, and so forth. The middle line of the poem, which has no parallel, is the major point being made. In this case verse 23 is the center of the poem:Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. Essentially, the poem culminates in the instruction that a man with a good wife will be lauded publicly. A modern equivalent would be: “Behind every successful man stands a strong woman.” This may seem like a back-handed treatment of women, saying that their only purpose is to make their husbands successful, but this isn’t the case because wives aren’t the target audience of this text.

When interpreting scripture, understanding the target audience intended by the author is valuable for understanding the message being presented. In the case of the book of Proverbs, the target audience is young men. Throughout the book, young men are addressed in the instructions. In fact, chapter 31 is advice given to King Lemuel by his mother. In this context, the advice being given to sons in the chapter is essentially that picking a good wife will aid in you becoming the kind of man that folks esteem highly. This is hardly unique in the text. 25:24 warns: Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. What sort of wife should you seek? One that you don’t fight with constantly, or you’ll hit a point where you’d rather sleep on the roof than with her. Chapter 5 is loaded with advice for young men regarding loose sexual morals. Young men are instructed to avoid such behavior and keep their sexuality confined to the relationship with their wives. In this light, the passage fits the larger context of the book’s tendency to offer advice to young men about ideal truths. This is most evident in verse 30: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Young men tend to gravitate to a pretty face when selecting a wife, while ignoring more important qualities, like character. The advice being offered is heavily oriented toward young men’s inclinations. Again, the audience is important because it reveals a truth that is often ignored by those who attempt to interpret the text in terms of gender roles: chapter 31 is never intended to be used as an instruction manual for wives. It is not a checklist for being the ideal wife. Rather, it is advice for sons to look for certain qualities in their wives if they want to be successful and well thought of. That having been said, there are truths that can be gleaned and applied for wives, but more on that later.

1f63a8228ad74caec641eaecef106871Understanding the historic context is also important for getting a solid grip on the meaning of the passage. The advice being offered isn’t being given in a culture where people typically married for love. Marriage was generally a very utilitarian institution. Wives were selected based on all sorts of considerations, most of them pragmatic. The poem is literally about choosing a wife according to high character standards. This choosing was more akin to shopping than our culture tends to immediately recognize.

In the next installment, we’ll look at the most important background issue: How to interpret what King Lemuel’s mom was saying. Is it symbolic of something else? Is it a guide for being a perfect housewife? Is it a call to return to the 50s? Or is it something better that all believers can take hold of with joy?
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6 Things You Can Do To Support Your Pastor

6 thingsI haven’t posted to this blog in 3 months. The reason for this leave of absence is simple: I am a small church pastor in a rural community of 700. I love my job and the people I serve. Between early October and December 26th, the busy season for church work, I didn’t have a single day when I didn’t field a work-related phone call, head over to the office to take care of a few tasks, visit with someone from the church, run into town for a hospital visit, spend time working on a sermon, sat down for counseling, attended a meeting, or spend time working. I often joke that I work every day, which is true. As the excess or work ramps up, the productivity of writing goes down. That having been said, I’m not bragging or complaining about this. I don’t consider burnout to be a sign of spiritual health. I actually really like my job and most days I don’t think I work to excess. In the past, I’ve worked at similar levels of busyness and not felt as good about it. Most ministers have experienced days when they didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and when they felt like there was no escaping the crush of expectations.

Strangely, after nearly three years of this sort of schedule, I have yet to reach that point. I certainly have bad days and times when I grit my teeth when the phone won’t stop ringing. The difference between past times of ministry work and now seems to be the attitude of the community of believers I am serving, as well as a few things they do consistently. This is a huge deal considering how often pastors walk away from church work in a state of burnout. Here are a few of the big things I have observed that have made a big difference to me.
  1. Pray for your pastor. Praying for your pastor means more than simply telling them you will pray for them. Praying for your pastor involves asking them what they need prayer for. It’s offering prayer for them in church during community prayers. It involves praying with them before events. Pastoring is spiritual leadership. There is an inherently spiritual component to the endeavor. As such, it is important to pray for pastors and let them know you are praying for them.
  2. Let your pastor be human. I am not perfect. In fact, even on my best days, I am not anywhere close. I still sin. I get tired, frustrated, and angry. Sometimes I am thoughtless, careless, and insensitive. I’m not saying I don’t strive for holiness or that I’ve given up on trying to be a better man. What I’m saying is that Jesus is perfect and I am a work in progress. The congregation I am serving has been great about letting me be human. When I struggle, there are church members who listen and offer advice. I talk about struggling with sin when I preach and no one is lining up to fire me for it. Nothing is more tiring for a minister than putting on their “holy man” mask every morning for work. There is a great deal of peace and comfort that accompanies knowing that you can talk about your struggles. It’s crushing to constantly live in fear of minor slip-ups. It’s even worse to carry secret sin, knowing you cannot confess it to anyone lest you lose your livelihood.
  3. Offer to help. There are several people in my church who routinely offer to help with aspects of my workload. They typically do a great job of following through when I take them up on the offer. These are the same people who show up at church events, bring food to sick members of the community, and stay late to visit with other members and clean up after an event. One of the biggest frustrations that can set in as a pastor stays longer with a small congregation, is the sense that they are doing everything. To be honest, even the offer of help is heartening. The sense that others are willing to help out is huge. Very little is more frustrating than investing time, energy, and enthusiasm, only to be met with indifference. Offering to help demonstrates investment.
  4. Be concerned about your pastor’s marriage. My first pastor appreciation month in Montana, the members pitched in and got my wife and I a 3-day stay at a hot spring resort. With this gift, we were given free childcare at the ranch of one of the members. This has been the norm since. Every year, we are given our own marriage retreat. This really isn’t a once-a-year thing. There are several members who routinely take our kids so we can go on dates or just get some alone time. On top of that, I am regularly approached by members who ask about my marriage and ask for ways to support us. The single best mechanism for maintaining pastoral morale is their family. The demands of ministry work can be significant and can significantly strain a marriage. Supporting a pastor’s family and helping maintain familial health essentially protects the most important mechanism for pastoral contentedness.
  5. Offer your pastor honest accountability and meaningful praise. This doesn’t mean offering empty praise. I often joke that no one ever tells you that you preached a bad sermon. There are a handful of people in my regular contact who will tell me when a sermon wasn’t good or will hold me accountable when I am wrong. Mind you, I am not talking about nit-picking. Feedback is most effective when it deals with larger block matters. Several years ago, I encountered an individual who would make suggestions based on phrasing errors I made while preaching. I don’t preach from a manuscript. It’s nearly impossible to preach extemporaneously without phrasing a few sentences poorly. In addition to accountability, praise is important. Pastors appreciate hearing when they do well. Positive feedback lets them know that what they are doing is appreciated. This should not be empty, puffing up praise. Rather, they should be genuine positive observations. There are a few people in my church whose praise various efforts, but aren’t shy to let me know when I miss the mark. Their opinions are valuable to me. This is not an instant thing. It is a product of relationship.
  6. Develop a relationship with your pastor and his family. My family has eaten meals with most of the members of our church. When I encounter church members at the store, they converse with us. We love the folks we are serving, not just because we are supposed to. We love them because they have made it a point to be our friends. I once had a pastor tell me that it was best not to invite people from the church into your lives. He told me about folks who had personally hurt him and his family. In time, we encountered people who confirmed this as a decent suggestion. For many years, my wife and I were standoffish in church communities. During our time in Montana, we have discovered that this was not the right course. There has been little that has meant more to us than the close relationships our church has set out to form with us.
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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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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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5 Principles for Disciplining Children

10362863_10152240653161599_2278280600722933084_n  The day after my daughter’s second birthday, something crazy happened. My sweet little princess almost instantly transformed. She went to bed a cute ball of sugar and cuteness. She woke up the next day a tiny tyrant, complete with temper tantrums, stomping and screaming, throwing herself on the floor, and occasionally pulling handfuls of hair out. I haven’t figured out what caused the change, I’m pretty sure there was something in the cake. The terrible twos had begun and there was no going back.

I’ll admit that deep down I wonder if she will grow out of it, or if I will raise her into one of those adults who throws tantrums at the grocery store because the line is too long. This shift has prompted a number of discussions between my wife and I on the matter of proper discipline. We don’t always agree on the right way to discipline, but we agree that correction is important to raising a child who has learned how to live and act properly. Here are some of the basic concepts that come into play in our discipline strategy.

Discipline is an act of love. As tough as it seems, discipline is a loving response to incorrect behaviors. The author of Hebrews points this out.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”   Hebrews 12:5-6

God demonstrates wise parenting by redirecting behaviors to change the direction of those he loves. Discipline turns us from decisions, behaviors, and attitudes that could potentially cause us great harm. Ignoring destructive behavior or responding in a manner that is inadequate to change the behavior may feel nicer than punishment, but it brings more pain when ingrained behaviors need to be relearned later.

IMG_2431Discipline is best when it instructs. One of the clearest memories I have of being disciplined as a child was that it was always followed by my parents sitting with me and explaining the purpose for the correction and basic instruction on how to behave.

Discipline must be proportional. There is a hard balance to manage with children and discipline. Micromanaging a child crushes them. Responding to minor infractions with huge punishments is out of proportion and will only result in either a crushed sense of independence or resentment. The real objective is a chance of direction. Paul presents this idea in the household code he included in his epistle to the Ephesians.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Discipline must be timely. Discipline must be clearly associated with the behavior for it to be effective. The age of a child is important to take into account when determining timely discipline. A 3-year old doesn’t do as well associating consequences with behaviors the further apart they take place. Correcting a toddler for behaviors that took place a week ago simply won’t be effective. They don’t think that way. Teenagers, on the other hand, are a little more mentally advanced and can associate consequences with actions that are a little more removed. Another important component of timeliness is the emotional state of the child at the time of correction. It always makes me scratch my head when I watch a parent trying to reason with a child in the middle of a full tilt tantrum. Tantrums are the point where thinking isn’t going to happen. Period. Instruction at this time will not correct the behavior.

IMG_0912Consistency is key. Children are keenly aware of how you are going to respond. They know if they can get away with things because you aren’t going to respond. Further, sending mixed messages will only confuse them. There is a degree to which discipline is classical conditioning. Inconsistency will undermine the conditioning component. If you make a threat of punishment and don’t follow through, you will have more trouble in the future. If parents are openly divided on discipline issues, the child will recognize it and figure out how to work the division to their advantage. It’s necessary to figure out your approach and stick with it.

Remember that you love your kid. When your child picks the worst possible moment and way to act out, it’s hard to remember that you are responding out of a desire to correct their behavior so they will be successful adults. Kids have an innate skill for driving their parents nuts. The only reason they can do this is because they are so precious to us. When other people’s kids have tantrums, I don’t pull my hair out the same way I do with my own. It’s harder because we love them.

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The Fatal Component of Addiction is Denial

One of the more difficult to grasp concepts about addiction is denial. denialDenial is the component of addiction that is actually fatal. This seems counterintuitive, because addiction typically features all sorts of destructive patterns and practices that seem to the part of addiction that kills you, but the reality is that what kills the addict is the inability to recognize the severity of the situation.

Denial is a thinking mechanism that enables the addict to effectively lie to themselves. All sorts of terrible things happen to the addict, like health problems, legal consequences, relationships disintegrating, loss of employment, or financial problems. These are often directly connected to the addict’s behaviors. Even highly functional addicts experience problems, but deterioration is inevitable. Because their addiction demands more and more of their attention and energy, they are unable to invest in their social and work obligations. Regardless of how bad things get for the addict, denial prevents them from associating their difficulties with using or to recognize that they have developed a serious problem. It’s not intentional, but rather the product of their illness that keeps them focused on everything except the connection between addiction and their problems. Because of denial, the addict gets sicker and sicker without recognizing it. Eventually, it is the lack of recognition that prevents them from working to stop their addictive patterns and results in their death. Denial is fatal because it keeps the addict from seeking help. They anesthetize themselves against most of the pain of consequences by using and blame the rest on other causes.

Typically, denial is broken when the addict experiences so much pain as a result of their using that they wake up to the problem. This is typically referred to as “hitting the bottom.” Unfortunately, the bottom is usually so bad that it kills the addict. Sometimes an addict will swear they won’t use again after an unpleasant experience and attempt to control their using. This fails and memories of the unpleasant experience are hidden behind the denial mechanism. Typically, these moments of clarity are not all-encompassing enough to really break down denial. The first step of the Alcoholics Anonymous program is acknowledging that life has become unmanageable, that the addict cannot control their behavior and that their addiction is destroying them. This is the level of acknowledgement that is necessary for the addict to begin recovery. They have to recognize that they are really sick. If an addict gets help or joins a group of other addicts, this can often lead to them coming to the realization that they are sick, largely because the recovering addicts can typically connect with other addicts in ways that non-addicts don’t necessarily emulate well. In the early days of AA, members would go to addicts in hospitals and sanitariums and proselytize them into the program. Addicts were able to successfully engage other addicts in ways that others weren’t. They could cut through denial because they understood it from the inside.

There are other ways that denial can be broken. For example, interventions put the consequences and impact of the addict’s behavior in front of them in order to force them to face up to reality. They are told about the effects their addiction is having on their loved ones, which prevents them from avoiding the reality of the situation. Another way for breaking denial is by convincing an addict to start treatment through motivational interviewing or other therapeutic techniques, but ultimately they cannot make progress until their denial is dealt with. Facing the consequences of their actions is an important component of beginning recovery. As long as they are protected from the natural consequences of their actions, they cannot begin to wake up to the severity of the situation.
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