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|Posted on March 26, 2018 at 12:22 PM||comments (44)|
The Question. Often while sitting in the psychological counselor’s chair a very common question emerges:
“Why does God allow these bad things to happen?"
There are many similar takes on this question such as:
“Why does this happen to such an innocent child?”
“If we have such a good God, then why is there so much suffering in this world?”
“If God was on the Cross for so many hours, then why has my relative been afflicted with this or that ailment for so many years?”
The Dilemma: These questions always stop me in my tracks and I even find myself getting tongue tied in trying to come up with a compact soothing succinct answer. After all, in my work, I want to help bring comfort to people’s lives and to teach them how to face challenges and trials.
But ultimately suffering is a sacred mystery of God ---much like the Eucharist and the concept of the Holy Trinity. No matter how we slice it, we cannot wrap our minds around it. Much of the challenge stems from the realization that suffering is a fact of our existence. We all suffer in some form or fashion. People suffer in a variety of ways: physically, psychologically, spiritually, socially, and culturally. We all have a Cross or even Crosses to bear whether we want to accept the situation or not. Truthfully, none of us are left unscathed. And ultimately, we can benefit from our trials. But how?
I have heard it said that suffering is actually the twin sister of love. Just like sorrow and joy can be twins. It is with great joy I discovered St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” which was released to the faithful on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1984. From that great work three words resonant: “Suffering unleashes love.”
“Suffering Unleashes Love.” The Crosses in our lives are those occasions for love to blossom, by interior acts of love, exterior acts, and cultural acts. We have a choice. We cannot choose our type of suffering or calamity, but we do have control over how we are going to react to it. Out of an act of our own free will, we can decide to become bitter, lash out at God, refuse to go to Church, blame others, call everyone hypocrites, and curse the day we were born. Or we can choose to cooperate with the Grace of God. Through prayer and discernment, we can look for the good that can stem from a situation and look for the expressions of kindness and love from others that inevitably abound. Psalm 27 states: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” Look for the little acts of love such as the get-well card, the kind word, the sharing of resources, the bouquet of flowers in a hospital room, the new and old relationships that are forged. Don’t see anything good happening? Sure, we can also see the negative fruits. But look hard enough and there are inevitable acts of love abounding.
Jesus Chose His Cross. If still nothing good seems to emerge, one can become that beacon of love oneself, just as Jesus Christ himself did. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).” Unlike us, Jesus suffered voluntarily and innocently to unleash love in a profound sacred mysterious way. He chose to suffer when he didn’t have to do it.
Most of us are not taught the value of suffering. An old Catholic cliché is to “offer it up” and we can choose to become prayer warriors at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the Passion of Jesus Christ. We can take every smidgen of difficulty in our life and transform it into something that has redemptive value for ourselves and others.
The Way Over it is Through It. In psychology, a common phrase that I often repeat to my clients is: “The way over it is through it.” This is extremely true for anxiety, fears, trauma, and grief. Avoidance only intensifies the suffering. For example, being able to stay with the feelings of a panic attack actually helps one to get over it, as counterintuitive as this may sound.
So, stop wasting that good suffering that inevitably emerges in life. One doesn’t have to look far. One doesn't even need to create it (none of us likes to be around those that create their own sufferings!). It is all around us naturally.
Go forth and unleash some love!
|Posted on March 16, 2018 at 1:29 PM||comments (6)|
Make your bedroom a comfortable place. Blankets, bed covers, and mattress should be cozy and inviting. Get extra pillows. Keep it clean and tidy and introduce pleasant smells such as a drop of lavender oil on the sheets and bring in pleasant sounds from nature or white noise.
Do not bring electronics to bed. Turn off the phone, IPad, computer, and even the TV. A modern problem that interferes with a good night’s sleep is binge watching videos and programs in bed. The act of just looking at a lighted screen has the effect of making a person more awake. If waking in the middle of the night, do not reach for a screen. Not having a TV in the bedroom is a good idea for a person struggling with insomnia. If one must watch TV or videos late at night, do so outside of the bedroom on a hard chair or floor with no cozy blankets. Remember, make the bed the most comfortable place in the world.
Watch what you eat or drink before bed. Do not drink products with caffeine after 4 pm. Avoid alcohol. That glass of wine or shot of vodka might appear to aid in falling asleep but can actually cause a person to be more awake and agitated after a couple of hours. It also can interfere with the quality of sleep, cause aspiration, and lead to nightmares. Do not eat a big or spicy meal late at night; but on the flip side, avoid going to bed hungry.
Get physical exercise during the day. A regular program of exercise, even a walk later in the day can help make your body more tired for sleeping and can also help process anxieties and stressors. Do not take daytime naps, no matter how tired during the day if nighttime insomnia is a problem. A nap can interfere with the normal sleep cycle.
Have a regular bedtime routine that trains your body to sleep. Have a soothing drink like herbal tea or milk. Take a warm bath, wash the face, and brush teeth. Go to bed at the same time each night and plan on waking the same time every morning. This helps regulate the body’s normal sleep wake cycle. Say bedtime prayers.
Sweet dreams! When in bed think of nice things that happened during the day and/or make a mental note of what there is to be grateful. Avoid if possible, discussing stressful topics and having arguments with others right before bedtime. Save difficult discussions for daytime only. Resist the urge to toss, turn, and thrash about the bed if possible unless in physical pain. Moving only serves to make a person more awake.
Win-Win! A Catholic version of counting sheep for insomnia is to pray the rosary. The result is a win-win situation: Either one gets some good z’s before the first decade or many long prayers for intentions get completed. Some find listening to a soft recording of the rosary can help as well. A prayer to one’s Guardian Angel can aid in putting one’s mind at ease and help one to feel safe.
Patron Saints of Sleep? St. Joseph is a great saint for those who are plagued with dreams (good and bad). Also St. Dymphna is the patron of mental health.
|Posted on January 16, 2014 at 11:36 AM||comments (4)|
In the dead of winter
This time of year always makes me think about the season. How can I ignore it? In Chicago the air is usually bitter cold. I’m not talking about it being a little bit chilly. It’s downright frigid with temperatures preferring to hover in the subzero range. At times it is difficult to appreciate the present moment, when I find myself counting the number of months left until spring. Navigating the highways can be quite a challenge. Every trip out whether on foot or in a vehicle means risk to one’s body and property. As I get older, I am getting less steady on my feet, walking like an old penguin and having to wear a coat that could double as a down sleeping bag.
Winter is a part of everyone’s life journey. We all experience it. Accept it or not, winter will inevitably come to us. Each journey has its own peaks and valleys. Some might say that winter is definitely a valley experience dominated with darkness. But others view it as being on the mountain top, especially if one takes pleasure in skiing. Some comment on the whiteness of the season and the extra use of light. Others might only see the gray concrete highways and barren trees.
Most of us agree that winter does bring storms which can alter our plans. We are usually glued to the weather forecast in this season, soon to discover that a better job of prediction is done by sticking a head out the window as opposed to sapping the knowledge out of a sophisticated modern meteorologist. In spite of our best efforts, some storms still take us by surprise.
Life events that take us by surprise
Events in life that can take people by surprise always bring with them some sort of stress. Events such as a sudden job loss or change in employment status; a serious illness; the death of a loved one; an unexpected move or need to relocate; a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, or fire; the ending of a relationship; an assault such in a burglary or rape; and accidents. In contrast to the bad, good events in life can also lead to stress: a new job; birth of a child; children leaving the home for college; or meeting someone new.
Some events happen very slowly
In contrast to the sudden storms of life, there are also events that creep up on us. These are the things that don’t happen overnight. No one ever wakes up in the morning to find oneself in a new life stage. (Although anyone who has ever had a teenager can swear that they grow inches overnight). Events that happen very slowly include puberty, reaching adulthood, vocational discernment, midlife crisis, menopause, empty-nesting, retirement, and spiritual growth. In fact, in the spiritual life, I have heard it often said that one never stands still. One is either going forward or backward. And in terms of psychological growth, most of us tend to jump all over the place. What characterizes slow transitions is that they usually involve moving from something old and very familiar to something new and unfamiliar.
We have a limited perspective
The problem we all have with changes and seasons in our life is that we never quite know what is coming up next or where we are standing, hence our desire for a good weather channel or forecasting app. We don’t have a bird’s eye view of the map of our life’s journey. We struggle to find a reference point at any one moment. We never know if we are on the mountain top or indeed in the valley. The old saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.” But talk to any older person and they will mention “the good old days.” But often at closer inspection, those “good old days” had lots of challenges and were often in fact downright awful.
Then what is the best compass?
The best compass is God. And through God, learning to live in the present moment. Research any philosopher, psychiatrist, or spiritual writing and you will find that they all say the healthiest perspective is that one which focuses on living in the present moment. So in the midst of our current snow storms there are treasures to be had. No need to even set out searching for the gifts of the present moment; such gifts are already in our hands. It is just a matter of having the ability to see them. No one is without exception.
I hear someone say, “I am different. My problems are worse than anyone else. There are no blessings seen here.” What such a person fails to realize is that even in our struggles and darkness moments there are the opportunities for growth and sanctity. Christians can also appreciate the redemptive value in suffering.
A psalm about the journey and how God is our compass:
Lord, You have probed me, You know me:
You know when I sit and stand;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
With all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, You know it all.
Behind and before You encircle me
And rest Your hand upon me.
Probe me, God, know my heart;
Try me, know my concerns.
See if my path is crooked,
Then lead me in the ancient paths. (Psalms 139:1-5;23-24).
We all go the ancient path.
In spite of what believing that we are modern people, we all travel the ancient path that others have gone before us. We only hope to travel it with the grace of the Saints and not get ourselves off course or do it crooked. We all will encounter challenges, stressors, and anxieties. These are inevitable parts of life. We all will encounter a storm in the dead of winter. Some of us might even encounter more especially if our journeys take us to the Northern Tundra as opposed to sunny Florida. But whatever our life maps, we have an Eternal Guide to help us arrive where we need to go.
|Posted on December 28, 2012 at 10:34 AM||comments (1)|
“A person that loses a partner is called a widow.
A child who loses a parent is called an orphan.
But there is no word to describe a parent that loses a child,
Because the loss is like no other. ..”
(Paraphrased from “An Orphan’s Tale, by J. Neugeboren, 1976)
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the loss of innocent children, particularly in light of the mass shootings in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. There are no words to describe the grief that a parent experiences after the loss of any child. We cannot possibly fathom what such a person might be feeling. And often it is not only the parents, but other family members, friends, and sometimes even strangers. We have little defense in coping with the loss of an innocent child. Some say that the pain lives with them the rest of their life while here on earth. It does not matter what age the child is, whether a fetus or a full-grown adult. There is still grief. Many who have suffered a miscarriage can testify that the emotional pain is very real.
When someone experiences a loss, they go through all types of different emotions. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, popularized the five stages of grief. Her model lists them as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And not everyone goes through all of them or even in that order. In fact some might not even go through any of the stages at all. Each person’s experience of this type of suffering is unique. If this is the case, then what good is a theory? It gives us a template from which to work and somewhat of a ballpark idea of what one might be going through.
Being able to forgive the unforgivable?
Getting over a loss from a tragedy or murder is wrought with additional trials because it involves a pain that is the result of something that is perceived to have been done unjustly. It is natural to feel angry at such. However what makes the major difference and leads to the greatest healing is how one chooses to deal with that anger. Some might feel that seeking revenge or getting even brings satisfaction. However, God’s way to heal the hurt is through forgiveness. We might ask ourselves, how can one ever forgive someone who has done what seems to be the unforgivable? It might be easier to think of a perpetrator who has committed such a crime to be a horrible, nasty, evil, and even less than human. But the fact of the matter is that such a person is actually a human being. Such a person is actually someone who is wounded, hurt, weak, immature, ill, and/or spiritually blind –for whatever reason. Just like each one of us. While it is true that not every person who has imperfections is a mass murderer, we all can see clearly that someone who kills innocent children might not have their elevator connecting on all floors. They are deeply wounded.
Fr. Anthony de Mello, S. J. is quoted as saying “people who hurt are asleep. If they were to wake up they would never behave like that.” (Obtained from “How to Forgive Yourself and Others”, by Fr. Eamon Tobin) Which echoes what Jesus said when He was dying on the Cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:4)”.
I have heard people turn their anger towards God. Some people might conclude that God doesn’t care about them when terrible things happen. There are no easy answers to what happens to any of us while on our journey and in this life on earth. Even non-Christians would agree that this world is full of anxiety and suffering. The worse approach however is breaking our relationship with God and deliberately abandoning prayer. However, if we are Christian, we know that God the Father did not even spare the Cross from His own Son, Jesus. And whether or not we are Catholic we can cling to the redemptive value inherent in suffering. There is a lot of meaning in the saying, “offer it up.” I only wish I had realized this sooner in my own life.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents
The Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents this week during the Octave of Christmas. This Feast remembers the little babies and children of Bethlehem who were slaughtered by King Herod. In the history of the early Church, these helpless little infants were the first persons to shed blood for the sake of Jesus and as such are known as martyrs. The Scripture repeats the prophesy from the Old Testament: ”Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15-16).
These children of Bethlehem did nothing to deserve their demise. And there are likewise so many innocent unborn and born children who die from various causes known and unknown. It can be said that there is an army of children in heaven. Knowing that these little angels have a soul in eternity can be a great source of consolation and hope.
Being able to heal from the pain is a grace from God
Being able to forgive and get over such a loss obviously takes a lot of time, patience, humility and prayer. It is not easy and to think such would be misleading. Taking the step towards forgiveness is actually an act of the will and healing of the hurt most often comes later. This is why often when someone has decided to forgive the feelings of hurt can still emerge even much later down the line. To still feel the pain doesn’t mean that one has not forgiven. One does not have to repress their anger and hurt. It is actually healthy to be able to admit that one is mad and extremely upset. The difference is when one decides to forgive regardless of the hurt. The grace of healing from the pain most of the time comes much later. It is a difficult journey and a tough Cross to carry but can be overcome by the grace of God. This is why prayer is so important throughout the process.
Know when to seek counseling
Sometimes the pain is so deep that it cannot be dealt with alone and a person might need professional help from a counselor and/or a spiritual guide. Just as someone needs help to cure a physical illness, it is wise to know when to seek out counseling. Help is warranted when someone has been unable to perform normal daily activities for an extended period of time. What is considered “normal daily activities” and “an extended period of time” can vary from person to person. But in general, a major change from one’s usual activity level can be a warning sign.
Isn’t abortion a loss too?
No one ever wants to lose a child. Or do they? According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 22% of all pregnancies end in abortion in the United States (National Vital Statistics Reports, April 6, 2010). The most common reasons cited for abortion include not feeling emotionally or financially capable of raising a child and fear that a child would drastically change one’s life. But still thousands of women who have actually gone through with an abortion still experience loss and its effects have a negative impact on their life. There are websites such as www.silentnomoreawareness.org and www.afterabortion.org where women and men share their stories. The fetus is a life and any mother can tell you that the maternal bond is formed very early in the womb.