Saturday, January 22, 2022

Depression’s source in the exhaustion of true grief


Finality is the sense of doom a person experiences in the moment they feel they’ve got nothing left.  Though it can be an enormous catalyst on the journey of true recovery, such a burgeoning reality of dread leaves us devoid of response, and we feel worse than death.

Even though it’s acknowledged there’s depression in grief, I’ve often wondered how much grief is in depression.  Or, how much our depression is grief—which is a normal process of adjusting to life that’s gone south so rapidly we’re caught in a sinkhole.

How much do our losses propel us toward depression?

And how many of our depressions are situational—take us out of the reality that grinds us into an emotional paste, and we’re left with a real positive sense for recovery.

Depression’s source is very often in the exhaustion of true grief—when all hope was long ago vanquished because we were too exhausted to care or fight for our mental health.

Depression often feels like a giving up.  
A sense of resignation and a recognition 
of, “how on earth did I get here?”

Those tell-tale signs of depression are so distinct: little motivation where doing even simple things seems impossible; chronic sadness or emptiness or dark night of soul; the unravelling of self-image where perhaps once a solid figure stood.

But it’s the ups and downs that characterise the grief process and help us to understand that our depression is sourced in the exhaustion of true grief—and there’s that threat that beckons where we consider how bad or worse this could get.

Having identified where our depression is sourced more truly in grief—and perhaps not so much in classical depressive disorder—finding our way through seems possible... at some point.  We have cause for hope and belief in recovery and healing.

We need to reconcile that if our situation needs to change to give us more hope, well then, our situation needs to change to give us more hope.

So, there’s a resolve we make to patiently bear the grief-laden season, even as we picture how the situation might change, and even as we imagine WHAT the experience may be teaching us.

Without dwelling on it, we hope, and allow ourselves to dream a little—without it causing us the torment of a hope delayed, because that just makes our hearts sick (Proverbs 13:12).

When we see the ups and downs in the process of our depression, we may find we can see the depression in our grief.  This is because the ups of acceptance are glimmers of recovery.

It may truly be circumstantial, and therefore it’s the stages of grief we’re dealing with.

This helps us believe that better times will return; to where they were before maybe, or to something even better.

I hope you can see the real hope in identifying the depression is in grief, and that grief is perfectly comprehensible and therefore understandable as a response when we’re depressed.

In all these experiences of brokenness, we also have the opportunity to recognise where we’re also being resurrected to a new hope.  If only we can see the faithfulness of God to get us through our most depressed moments, to give us back insight of our joy, then we’re grateful, even if for a moment.

It’s not a weakness to struggle 
to bear the cruel realities of loss.

It requires massive strength
to bear grief that makes us weak.

It requires massive strength, that in our weakness we can only see the weakness.  But it takes massive strength to just keep going when we’re assailed every which way, and it’s that massive strength once it’s seen that’s a game changer.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Something we must accept, COVID is thwarting everyone


The coronavirus isn’t yet endemic, but there is something that is.  There are so many experts, and every one of them thinks they’re right.  What’s endemic is COVID is thwarting everyone.

I truly feel for any leader currently where the only true and helpful sight is hindsight.

The divisions in our society more aptly reflect the dis-ease, which is an inside job.

COVID forces all of us into taking a corner of the sandbox, and from there it’s not long until we start pitching the sand.

How useful and helpful is the paroxysm of vitriol?  It’s so destructive on many levels.  But the most important thing to remember is, whenever we choose a side, we neglect other differential truths.

The only way we respect the truth is by holding our peace.

But with social media playing such a central role in life these days, there’s not much of a chance of peace and respect.

If we truly want peace, we don’t endorse war.  But there seems to be so many people these days itching for a fight.

Those who accept what they cannot change—like situations that thwart us—sow in peace.  Those who sow in peace reap a harvest of blessing.

Those who are most blessed are those who can quickly surrender to the fact—COVID is thwarting everyone.

This may not seem to offer much hope, but think about the test here.  We must learn to lose our insistence that we can control everything or even most things.  Do this, accept what we cannot change, and we’re at peace.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The wisdom of a life of making amends


The latter steps (10-12) of the Twelve Steps are those of maintenance, and where we agree that life must be a day-at-a-time proposition we continue on our journey of recovery.

Preceding those maintenance steps are the steps of making amends—Steps 8 and 9.  Everything about the steps is deliberate, planned, structured, done with detailed reflection and unstinting commitment. The more serious we take the process, the more embedded is recovery.

But it’s not just Steps 8 and 9 that are about making amends.  The whole program of recovery is about the practice of a life of making amends.  It’s about learning to hold short account, knowing that the more responsibility we take for our attitudes and behaviour, the more we control our peace, our hope, our joy, and the more people experience the transformation that’s occurring in us.

This is the truth of life: the more we look inward and understand our impact on our world, the more we have control over our inner world and the better we take our external world.  And the more we live a life of amends, the less we’re susceptible to those who continue to live a life of making excuses.  The less we’re affected by those who haven’t grown.

Having seen the fruit of change in our own life, having experienced the power that comes from taking our responsibility, it bemuses us when others continue blaming others, losing the power they could very well have.

A life of making amends is the wisest way of living life because it’s the right way to live.

When we get life wrong, hurt people, don’t consider others, or mess up in any way, there ought to be a commitment and continual practice of making amends.

Being committed to living at peace with our world and all the people we relate with is the way to inner peace.

In seeking forgiveness, we receive forgiveness, and earn forgiveness.  And where we’re not forgiven, we grow in grace in forgiving the person who cannot forgive because we feel a pity for them that their heart is not geared to grace.  Of course, it’s incumbent on us to apologise so sincerely that we mend the brokenness between us and the other person—as far as it depends on us.

Importantly, making amends is always about the other person we’re to make amends to.  Sometimes it would put them in a tenuous or even hurtful position.  A true life of making amends is about empathising with others, feeling what it would be like for THEM to experience our amends.  To make amends without thinking about how it will affect the other person is potentially quite a selfish act.

When we come at life from the context of others—to value others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3)—we find it’s the very design of life.  This is not to say we don’t value ourselves; on the contrary, the more we value others, the more we value ourselves.  By valuing others we’re saying all humanity has value.

When we esteem everyone, nobody has power over us.  See how a commitment to loving everyone as much as we can is a commitment to the wisest way of life, the overcoming life.  The life that takes and takes and takes thwarts itself.  A life that refuses to make amends ends up being the misguided and regrettable life.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Remembering well in response to grief


Inevitably life teaches its most salient lessons through hard things, like failure and grief.  Failure highlights better ways and these object lessons often prove pivotal.  With grief, I think it’s different.  Our grief invites us to remember well.

Our family are on a trip to a small town in the upper great southern of Western Australia in honour of a young person who was tragically taken 25 years ago.  My wife, a youth leader at the time, was right next to her when a rock fell and struck the girl (K) who was nearly 16 at the time.  We laid flowers at her grave and remembered her.  We considered how much her dying must have affected her family, how much it must continue to affect them, and how a life cut so tragically short might otherwise have taken shape.  It was a solemn time.

We love honouring those who are no longer here.  For us, to remember K who had her whole life before her is the least we could do.  We love it whenever someone surprises us by remembering Nathanael.  It’s never awkward for us.  It always blesses us.

It has me thinking about the value of remembering well.  To remember well serves at least three objectives.

To remember well honours those we have lost; their memory, their legacy, what they meant to us, and the significance of their lives.  When I’m gone, I don’t want people to studiously avoid talking about me, who I was, etc.  Every life lost is a significant loss.  Every life is and was important.  The more we remember them, the more we exercise our memory and the less we forget.

Remembering well also helps us process our losses.  Avoiding talking about it, however, staves off opportunities to grieve well.  There is a place, I can tell you, for when the pain of grief is gone, and sadness makes way for thankfulness, not least through how our hearts are touched in expressing whatever emotions come up for us.  Don’t be afraid to grieve!  Please don’t.  So many I find delayed their grief process and therefore complicated it.  To honour the truth of how we feel about loss is right, just, and fair.

If you feel safer to do it with others, feel your feelings with others around.  If you can only grieve alone, that’s understandable, so make enough time to honour your loss with tears and whatever other visceral response comes up by yourself.  Everyone has the right to grieve as THEY feel it’s right.

Remembering well heals us.  That’s it.  There’s nothing to be afraid of in remembering well.

Finally, to remember well is to honour the person we lost as if they were still here.  They’re not forgotten.  And if remembering someone we lost causes others aggravation, that’s not our fault.  There should always be space for those who are no longer here.

There is no need to feel guilty for remembering those we lost, just as it’s inappropriate for anyone to make us feel guilty for remembering those we lost.

~

It may seem bizarre to say this, but our grief is our possession.  It’s ours and ours alone, and that which feels painful is actually more beautiful than we could ever realise—if only we’ll go there.  There is nothing to fear in facing our brokenness for our grief.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Numbness in grief, and the thud when the emotions land


There are more, but I recall three poignant times where loss swept down from out of nowhere and trounced me.  The first periods of one to two days in those losses overwhelmed my ability to absorb fully what was happening.

The first loss, September 22, 2003, I was advised by my then-wife at 8pm on that Monday evening, on the same day I’d contracted a mild influenza and had received bad news on the career front, that our marriage was over and that I was required to move out.  The second loss, July 1, 2014, we’d received news you never prepare for—at our prenatal ultrasound scan we were told our baby would not survive.  The third loss, October 31, 2014, was at the other end of the second loss, 24-hours after Nathanael had been stillborn full-term, and we had him there with us on Sarah’s hospital bed.

At the time of the first loss, I drove around our city for most of the night thoroughly confused for what or how to feel, and yet I felt the fullness of the glimpse of a whole range of emotion.  I was in utter disbelief.  I was angry with myself, bargaining with my then-wife in my mind.  I was feeling things I’d NEVER felt before, like a regret of “it’s too late”.  My entire life was flashing before my eyes, as if I was to say goodbye to it, as I would be required to do.  The thing was, I couldn’t ground my emotionality in any one emotion.  Outright betwixt and between.

At the time of the second loss, we were completely blindsided.  As all couples probably do, we went along to the 20-week ultrasound to get some pretty baby photos to later post to Facebook.  When the doctor took us to his room to break the news with watery eyes, leaving those rooms, driving home, advising family, and existing for the next day or two was a complete blur.  I’m sure writing about our journey helped me ground the grief experience in a reality I learned to bear one day at a time.

At the time of the third loss, the gravitas of our plight with Nathanael had come full circle—we were in the inescapable reality of loss having borne the burden of the ambiguity of grief for the previous four months.  Having been blessed with support of our family and closest friends who visited us with Nathanael, 24-hours after his stillbirth we were finally alone and therefore unable to escape the enormity that finally he was gone.  Even though we were together, it was one of the loneliest moments of my life.

Within each of these one-to-two-day periods after loss, there were moments of disbelief such that even though you know what’s happening, the soul reels with what is incomprehensible.  These burgeoning “realities” are far too big to absorb.

Once these moments of numbness were over, however, the gravity truly hit hard.

Without agreeing to the transaction, you swap the confusion of not knowing what or how to feel with a rollercoaster, feeling more grounded in the depths of shock, anger, denial, bargaining, depression, even acceptance.  What’s worse, feeling more grounded in such devastating emotions, or feeling utterly befuddled in how to respond emotionally?

But, being what loss is, the non-negotiable entrance to the journey of grief, you continue to step each day, not knowing what emotional stage you’ll appear on.  What’s most disconcerting about that is the idea that there is both numbness and gravitas about each and every emotional reality known to grief.

~

As I reflect about the objectives of loss, I know that loss has taught me so much.  What’s most noteworthy is how loss informs how we’re to live in the present and future.

Because there’s so much fear in loss, I think that being in fear so much, we resolve ourselves to living more fearlessly than ever, we have less time for regret, and therefore we have fewer regrets.  We become revenants, having died, and therefore have much less then to lose and much more to gain in simply living.

Within the enormity of grief is the witness of that which feels as if it should and will kill us but that which makes us stronger in the long haul when we find we’ve survived it.

Wherever you’re at in your loss and grief journey, know that you’re not alone, that you’re strong for simply being, no matter how weak you will often feel.  Your future self will thank you for doing what you’re doing right now, so keep the faith, keep it simple, go gently.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Bottling tears, the honouring of the truth of your grief


I truly doubt that there’s been a time in most our living memories where there has been so much justified sadness and fear due to compound loss and chronic uncertainty.  There is a societal layer to this, just as there’s a personal layer.

A comment was made by a dear friend on a recent article I wrote on Lament.  She made reference to the ancient tradition of Lacrymatory, which is actually referred to in King David’s fifty-sixth psalm.  In verse 8 the differing translations say that God takes account of all our tears, that our tears are kept in his bottle.

The tradition of Lacrymatory is apparently what the ancients did in crying their tears into personal ceramic bottles that resemble the shape of bulbus beakers used in science; a bottle with a long thin spout, but a bulbus bottle that is designed to retain fluid.

Why did people keep their tears?  Perhaps as a requiem or as evidence of the process of losing, that in possessing evidence of the cost of loss there’s the testimony of truth written all over the saline fluid.  It said something about the personal value of those tears, especially when those tears are all they had, and especially that those tears are the essence of what feels worst about life.

For us in our day, whether you’re a parent or a grandparent, or your concerned for your parents of vulnerable loved ones or others, or that you just can’t see the end in sight, or for a plethora of other reasons, not to leave out overwhelm, you’re understood for your tears.

Your tears are the validity of your loss and grief you’ve experienced, and that which exhausts you, and for the fear and dread that fills you for the uncertainty that abounds.

Each time we’re in those bouts of sorrow for which nothing attends but tears, we’re granted peace in the presence of a God who keeps our tears on the record of our life.

The purest empathy is what God has for us in those times, no matter how irrational we may feel, because many times there’s a tinge of self-judgement and frustration in those tears, especially if we’ve been there, going around the mountain, stuck in the circle, many times.

But there’s no judgement in God for our tears—just the deepest of understanding.

The tears we cry often seem like such a waste, and so often in our deepest sobbing and wailing we feel as if we should die, but in all this the faithfulness of God shines forth and through—tears provide some sense of temporary relief, if none other through exhaustion, and we do live another day.  Indeed, often there’s a semblance of joy in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

We don’t die of our tears, indeed they bring forth life and a portion of hope.

I know as a man and as a pastor and counsellor, there have been so many times when I’ve been so confounded emotionally and spiritually, that tears have been my food.  They positively nourished my soul that was otherwise pent up with frustration, anger, dread, concern, etc.

I know it’s not a sin to experience worry, fear, sadness, overwhelm—these are all very human experiences that are never to be judged and condemned—and indeed, these are the portents of God, as in them is the portal to healing.  Further, they’re to be celebrated in tears, not that tears feel like any source of celebration, but in giving truth the final word, because how we feel is the truth, THIS is cause for great celebration in the heavenlies, if not here on earth.

Our tears are important, important enough to be eternal.  They’re never a waste.  The process itself is psychological and physiological healing combined.

Grief expressed is honoured because it honours truth.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Of the wisdom that is hard-won


The very best of wisdom, they say, is hard-earned.  This is such a great encouragement for all those who have often wondered whether what they suffered was all just a big waste.

With hard-won wisdom, we ponder something that often takes years (not weeks) to procure.  And that’s because this kind of wisdom humbles us in failure time and time again.  It can feel humiliating to miss the mark so repetitively, but the very point of hard-won wisdom is we NEEDED to make all those mistakes to draw out of the scenario all there was to learn.

In the exercise of humility enough to bear the pain of being out of sorts for such a length of time, THERE, right in that most horrible of spaces, is the very conditioning that expunges pride—that detestable quality that sticks to those who exalt power and fall for Hubris Syndrome.

Humility is exemplified in wisdom, 
as folly finds itself in full array in pride.

In the winning of the wisdom that makes us and keeps us humble, there is growth and life—yes, out of the torment of getting life wrong for so long.  There are moments in this whole process, and very many of them I’m here to tell you, where you feel as if there are people laughing at you and treating you with disdain.

Well, once you have hard-won wisdom, nobody laughs at us then.

This is why I always encourage those I counsel to hold on and be patient and gentle with themselves when they’re assailed by the impossible.  God, we know, works especially in the realm of the impossible.  This is why faith seems so ridiculous.  And yet it’s why faith is an integral part of gleaning this hard-won wisdom.

I’d venture to say there are few exceptions to the general rule that hard-won wisdom is the only true wisdom.  There are people, however, who are wise simply for whom they are—they didn’t need to learn it the hard way.  But these are rarities.

You know what this reminds me of?  What Paul says about human wisdom in First Corinthians.  Human wisdom—let’s call it success, or the projection of success for image-sake—is folly.  And in this social media age we’re all tempted to fake it to make it.

The only wisdom that works for humanity is that which is hard-won, that has made us humble, that has kept us grounded, that has made us not only wise, but that has made us a truly kind and personable human beings—deeply capable of empathy, won to compassion—people who are just lovely to know.  That’s a wise person who has enrolled in, stayed, and graduated from, the School of Brokenness.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Truest faith amid existential grief of the moment’s affliction


Every human being if they’re honest has faced the existential grief of the moment’s affliction.  To suffer it is to be human.  It is the microcosm of Psalm 88.  It is every case and situation of a doubting and a blow to one’s confidence that cannot be explained, except that it is harrowing the emptiness of it.

This is humanity’s lowest common denominator, and it’s not just those with bipolar disorder and depressive disorders who suffer it.  Everyone has been afflicted in that moment when they’ve experienced what comes with a trauma, a betrayal, a triggering for what undoes you, when you feel abandoned, etc.

It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone experiences times in their life when they feel existentially alone, and for believers, when they feel God’s abandoned them.  This is precisely why we have reminders in the Bible that God never leaves us nor forsakes us; but this is not our reality, for which the psalms like Psalm 88 faithfully attest.  So, while God never does leave us nor forsake us, we do experience the opposite.

The person who denies the concept of the dark night of the soul, where God’s presence is apparently completely annulled in our consciousness, misses out of on a vital component of their humanity.  They don’t see that reality that Paul spoke about in Philippians 1 where ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’.  While we’re here, we’re far from home, because much of life doesn’t make sense.

The person who doubts and struggles and admits their anxiousness and depressed thoughts is a person who does not struggle with their human condition.  They’re at peace as much as they can be about the existential grief of the moment’s affliction.

That moment may be a moment, or a series of moments, lasting minutes, an hour or more, or a day or more.  Such a continuous series can last and last, or it may simply be the fleeting nature of a thought that causes their hope to crash.

There’s nothing a Christian or anyone else should feel inadequate about.  Reading the Bible more or praying more won’t remove from them the risk of such grief occurring.

What puts us closer in touch with this spiritual phenomenon is loss itself—the loss of a relationship, a loved one, a hope, a dream, etc.

Suffering loss and being connected with the phenomenon of grief is mere human parlance, and sadly no faith or belief system will prevent it, that is at least we’ve truly loved and lived.

To love is to lose, just as it is to live is to die.  So faith is no protection against loss but those who venture forward in their faith through their grief—particularly when they cannot ‘feel’ God—are the true heroes of the faith, for they believe in and follow God even when it feels like God’s not there.  Their compensation is a deeper and mightier faith.

The truest faith on earth is when you face spiritual desolation and still look up for God’s help.  Especially when your eyes are worn out from crying, in sheer exhaustion, your heart aches and it hurts to think, but then you still cannot help but continue to hope in God, now that’s the realest faith there is.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

To be heard, to be seen, to be encountered


Not everyone wants nor feels they need, to be heard, to be seen, to be encountered, but to have one’s soul touched is a serene and eternal gift, much as a gentle massage is.  It takes us into a comfort our soul always craves, much as it is when we’re mesmerised by a fountain or flame.

Those who bear trauma, and so many of us do, those who are open to going down there, into the fissures where pain resides, can find that those areas can be massaged into healing.

We don’t go there with any fabulous or trite formula, as if there are rules to abide by.  No, we go there by faith of unknowing.  Much as I do with my counselling process, I ensure I know nothing so I can be an instrument of God who requires empty vessels so they can be filled properly for the anointed moment.

Anathema for men is to go into the sensitivities of sensuality.  It feels like it’s for women.  But it’s for everyone.  True mysticism is entering into many varietals of the unknown, learning to trust the adventure as hazardous in no way.  Isn’t it ironic that those who put on the fa├žade of strength cannot be weak enough to enter healing, for only in weakness is there strength in the paradoxical economies of faith and eternity.

There is so much healing to enjoy in the presence of many peaceful things, much that healing is not most of all a destination.  God is greatly good to the extent that we can experience healing, and the more we access it, the more we know our way there, and we can choose for it more and more.

A sweet wafting cooling breeze, a mist to buffer summer’s heat, a fly walking on the skin of the forearm, a gentle rhythm of song or melody, and so much more, is peace.

How shall I end this?

Everyone seeking healing will prosper from being heard, from being seen, from being encountered.  And that’s our privilege as we extend it.  When another enjoys it, the presence of healing is profound—not simply for the one, but for both.

That is to hold space.  It’s simply to empty me of me so not only God but the other can fill me.  What a great thing for the senses to be empty of oneself and fully devoted to another for a time.  Counselling is that unique relationship.  For a moment, a minute, ten, an hour or a day.

There’s nothing like being heard or hearing within the totality of presence.  There’s nothing like being seen, and by being seen I mean, accepted for whom one is, a complete lack of judgment, and no condemnation.  When there’s guilt, how could judgment help.  The shame and guilt are evidence that judgment and condemnation are wrong.

The honour of honours in this life is to be encountered, to have one’s soul touched by another soul, which is to be gifted something of the Kingdom of heaven.

Anyone who seeks healing shall soon see.  Find your wounded healer and allow the Spirit to teach you how to do it as you experience your wounds being healed so that you too can be that healer of wounds that your world needs.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The exhaustion that hides beneath emotional vulnerability

“Sometimes we can do more for people in our absence 
than we can do for them in our presence.”
— Ruth Haley Barton

Having endured the past two very challenging years, and perhaps having also endured some variety of other challenges or hardships in life, you may have arrived in a season where your emotional vulnerability bleeds out from within into your external world.

It may be frustration, irritability, fear, sadness, loneliness, a loss of hope, the need to withdraw in ways that neglects those who depend on you or, just as bad, violent behavioural responses of rage.

Not all of our emotional vulnerability is due to exhaustion, but a lot of it is.  Exhaustion comes from ‘being strong for too long,’ from being too accessible, from being unbalanced for an extended period.

Exhaustion drives down into your soul and ultimately it leaves you spiritually dry, and it all manifests in patterns of emotional vulnerability.

There’s a good reason why Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness.  He needed to reconnect with himself and be in communion with his Father.  Jesus modelled what we all need to do.  We all need our “ME” time, and we need a rhythm of it.  Such timeout isn’t just for introverts.

“ME” time can sound like selfishness, but if I don’t look after me, I have little resource left to care for the person who depends on me—and we all have people who depend on us, just as in any healthy life we depend also on others.

So, we can look at this “ME” time in the frame of whatever it is that replenishes—noting that much selfish “ME” time is NOT oriented toward renewal but sloth.  Time to reconnect, be it with a book, or time in nature, cherished fellowship with a mentor, exercise, or any other productive use of time is vital for each of us.  Good self-care requires diligent effort to plan and execute.  Blessed are those who take responsibility for organising this time.

When we find ourselves in a pattern of emotional vulnerability—and this is most underscored in the final analysis as anxiety and/or depression—we might be genuinely encouraged to identify the reason: exhaustion.

I say encouragement for this reason: we customarily condemn ourselves as less-than when everyone undergoes the same thing when exposed to a sustained overload of stimuli, whether it’s burnout, a cacophony of loss, conflicts that can’t be reconciled, abuse and trauma, and the like.

There’s no reason to feel alone in being emotionally vulnerable.  Given the same circumstances that you face, the next person would feel the same way.  And besides, there are just so many people who are emotionally vulnerable, again, because of degrees of exhaustion.

~

Here are ten sources of exhaustion, which is an adaptation of the work of Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God:

1.            Being too plugged in

It’s the curse of the modern social media and email age.  Most of us spend far too much of our lives connected to devices.  Without tempering this excessiveness of electronic stimuli, we risk burnout simply because we have a fear of missing out (a.k.a. FOMO).

2.           Trying so hard and juggling so much

Few of us truly want to disappoint people, because, let’s face it, even if we’re selfish, keeping people happy makes life easier.  We’re often prepared to do more just to keep the peace. And just because we do this doesn’t mean we’re “people pleasers.”  It’s often just strategically wise to keep people happy.  But the more we say yes, the more exhausted we become, unless we ensure that we always chisel out time to replenish our resources.

3.           Functioning out of an inordinate sense of ought and should

This is about listening to our language, or even what we’re saying to ourselves about making needs out of wants.  We place a lot of pressure on ourselves.  We should do this, or we ought to do that.  If you’re exhausted, you know how it goes.

4.           Finding it difficult or even humiliating to receive help from others

It is far easier for us to do things for others than to “owe” people.  But if we can’t receive others’ help, we will find life exhausting.  It takes humility to allow others to love us.

5.           Living more as a performer than the person God created you to be

We are human beings not human doings, but all the same, we act as if all that matters is our performance.  I know how hard this can be having had employers that I found impossible to please regarding performance—yep, just didn’t know how.  I know that conditioned me to see my worth in what I do and what I have to offer rather than seeing my worth as who I am.  God is far more interested in who we are than what we do.

6.           Few or no boundaries on my service and availability to others

Priding ourselves on saying yes to everything, without ensuring we have recovery time, is the sure road to burnout.  Let me just leave that there!

7.           Always feeling you should be doing more because there is always more to do

There will ALWAYS be more to do, and the more we do, the more we SEE the things that need to be done.  We don’t need to be the ones to do what needs doing.

8.           Carrying the burden of unhealed wounds – sadness, unresolved tension or conflict, toxicity in relationships

This one’s loaded.  Grief, unforgiveness and untenable relationships will do us in if we let them.  We will have grief.  We will.  We must take our sadness to God.  And we must find ways of resolving tension (which takes intuitiveness and courage) and putting in place boundaries in toxic relationships—or ending them.

9.           Information overload

Just about every adult alive at this time knows a world where information bursts toward us like out of a firehose.  We need to protect ourselves against the relentless deluge.

10.        Just being plain willful (as opposed to being willing)

This speaks to our narcissism.  Yep, it’s in us all.  Only the ones who can see it are those who are probably low on the narcissism scale.  Most of us know what we want and, if we’re honest deeper down, we insist upon having it.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

You, your mental health and others’, this Christmas


It’s been a rough year.  Remember when we naively hoped that 2021 would usher in relief as we sought to ditch last year with true ‘2020’ hindsight?  2021 has been a doozie in many ways.

We did our annual drive around to see the Christmas lights last night (Christmas Eve – yes, it’s very early Christmas morning here).  As I turned one corner, I did what all of us drivers do, and I turned a corner and had headlights bearing down on me.  The driver sped up, put their high-beam lights on, and because they were driving aggressively, I sought to turn left at the next convenient corner, so then I got a blast from their horn.

I understand the anger.  And I understand the frustration of someone ahead of you not going fast enough – we just wanted to look at lights when on suburban streets.  Anyway, that said, we meandered home.

There’s a lot going on these days in people’s emotional worlds.

There’s a lot of fear and there’s also a lot of scepticism and cynicism, together with frustration, loneliness, and just plain tiredness and exhaustion.  Many, many manifestations of garden variety anxiety that pounces and pushes hope to despair.

The only thing that can help in all these situations is a little kindness.  Just a little bit is all it takes to execute grace, to forgive the mistaken instant, to issue a smile instead of a frown.  But we must make that agreement first; it needs to be arranged as an intention.

Your mental health and mine is tenuous at present.  We’ve all been pushed that little bit harder this year. We’re all just a little more fragile.  And this is not to mention the losses going on in so many lives that I’m aware of right now.

We need to go gently with ourselves and with others.  When we’re gentle with ourselves it tends to work out that we’re gentle with others, so let that be our bearing.  “I’m not being kind to people at present, so does that mean I’m not being kind enough to myself?”

Worth pondering.

Christmas is symbolic as a time of peace and goodwill to all humanity.  But it’s also a real pressure point for just about everyone.  Most people either have too much busyness going on or the opposite reality bears down – forlorn loneliness.  Lonely Christmases are the pits, so if that’s you, receive a portion of my empathy, please!

Let’s take care of you and me this Christmas, hey?

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The very best thing about death


There are many different directions I could take this article, and many of them would be true.  But to be faithful to the vision given to me, I must limit my focus to one.

The very best thing about death is the life 
that emanates out of the imagination of it.

When I go to funerals, I don’t hear people saying, “life’s not precious.”  To a person, I hear people awestruck in many manifestations of wonder for the certainty of mortality.  Death brings us to attention.  Being something we cannot resolve, there’s benefit in resolving to accept it.  Once we’re there, there is a cosmos of blessing to be had, because our life purpose is activated.

The end of a person’s life is the most incomprehensible thought, and there’s nothing like it to motivate the right kind of action.  “I must be here for something!” becomes the soul’s catchcry.

One thing Sarah and I discovered when we were losing Nathanael—through an anonymous friend, actually—is there was life in making every effort to make the very most of every moment we were given to have him, there, alive, in the womb, with us.

It’s like the title of a recent article I saw but hadn’t read (didn’t need to): “I’m thankful to cancer for one reason – we did so much living while my husband was dying.”

It wasn’t until my first marriage failed and my father had had a serious and debilitating surgery that both of us—brought to our knees by the circumstances of our lives—were able to embrace each other in a manly hug.

When life breaks us, those feelings of loss connect us to a deeper empathy and intimacy.

Again, in the specific context of funerals, I’ve so often seen the real person emerge, even momentarily, because they were ravaged by grief.  Masks and facades fall and smash in the brittle oblivion of irrelevance in the sight of loss.  Only those who are truly shells of humanity won’t bow to the ‘weakness’ that reveals authenticity.

One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to live out of the frame of the imminence of death.  We take others we love and care for must less for granted.  We watch what we say and do and are more compassionate toward others.  We recognise the immortal wisdom of reconciling our restorable relationships.  We don’t delay important things.  We stop doing things that really don’t matter.  We tell people that we love them.  We say our yeses and no’s with much more sincerity than ever before.  We imagine that all we possess will soon pass into other hands, so we covet less, and we become more generous.  We begin to allow ourselves the freedom of wonder about things we cannot explain, like questions science and philosophy cannot yet answer.  True wisdom and understanding begins to take hold in our lives.

Another thing, if we can get over our fear of death and dying there literally is nothing else left to fear in life.  Think about it.  If the fear of ceasing to exist in this physical realm is stopped, we’re free to live the days that we have left, and perhaps we afford ourselves time to reflect over precious memories.

We cannot shake the reality that we’re only here for a certain length of time, and it’s our opportunity to make the most of every moment of every day.  Besides, if we can just imagine what’s eternally in the divine eye—an unconditional love beyond human comprehension—we might just believe in the reality of ‘heaven’ that so many who say ‘rest in peace’ believe in.

The very best thing about death is what it 
causes us to do when thought of death is close.

When we carry about ourselves the concept of our death, it literally is the spark in the eye for appreciating the moments of life that we do have.