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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 July 20, 2014 at 3:49 PM||comments (1)|
“I Want to Forgive But I Still Have Pain.”
This phrase frequently comes up during in the course of counseling. Many have injuries from past and even current relationships that continue to cause pain thus hindering advancement to fuller productive lives. The desire to move on is present but former feelings of being hurt, mistreated, ignored, and/or neglected keep cropping up causing re-injury. The desire to eliminate these sensations and memories is strong but for some reason there is an inability to move on. Efforts to “stuff it down” and “forget about it” just don’t seem to work. Exasperated, they conclude that they are unforgiving simply based on the remaining sensation of pain and recurring memories. The feelings can snowball by adding layer upon layer of frustration, guilt, and anger.
Emotions are the GPS system given to us by God.
One big misconception is that all emotions are bad. But truthfully emotions are a type of natural GPS (Global Positioning System) given by God to help figure out where we are, where we have been, and what is going forward in our lives. It can be viewed as a warning device when we are getting off course. Emotions are meant to flow and not to be blocked. According to Karla McLaren, the author of The Language of Emotions, every experienced emotion contains a message and we must learn how to read the message. Mistakes are made when instead of properly “reading a message” we decide to ignore it or impulsively overreact to it. No one likes the feeling of being angry, hurt, sad, anxious, guilty, etc. But in reality we must learn to be mindful of what we are experiencing and be able to take away from it useful information to help us have fuller lives and better relationships.
Common emotions that appear to block our ability to forgive
A common emotion associated with an inability to forgive is that of fear. Another one is anger. In some ways these two go hand in hand. Fear is the most primal of emotions and is a trigger for the need for protection. Fears can be real or unfounded due to habit. Anger is a response to the threats that cause fear. According to McLaren, the message of anger is basically one of protection and contains two main questions that we must ask ourselves: (1) What must be protected? And (2) What must be restored? Anger is the result of some type of event/stimulus that threatens one’s sense of self, standpoint, or voice. Another common emotion is that of guilt. The message associated with guilt is the feeling that we ourselves might have violated someone or compromised a code of ethics. Shame is very similar in that one feels lessened by being untrue to the community with which they identify or to their own personal set of core values.
To act or not to act
Validating one’s emotions is important, but on the other hand, interpreting the message in our emotions doesn’t give a license to blow one’s stack or fly into a rage. We must understand a couple of important points. First, even if an emotion exists, our interpretation of what it means might not always be correct. There is a time and place for “righteous anger” and some persons/relationships in our lives might even be dangerous or pathological to continue. Even Jesus became angry at the money changers in the Temple. However, prudence and discernment must be used so that we are not flowing with unbridled destructive passions and become like a volcano ready to blow. Fear is one emotion that can very often become out of control and manifest as chronic anxiety as a result of habit. Fortunately the brain has plasticity and can unlearn such patterns. Secondly, being able to set clear boundaries and to restore one’s sense of self without offending the dignity of ourselves, another, or others are better indications of success, particularly when dealing with forgiveness. Without realizing it, more injury can be caused to ourselves and others by improperly reacting to an emotion. It is important in the cycle of forgiveness to not perpetuate re-injury with others and particularly within ourselves.
How to check the reliability of the message in our emotions
The basic principle behind cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that our perception and belief of an event effects how we will feel and behave. Checking in with ourselves is essential. Looking for cognitive distortions and exaggerations are important. Asking further questions such as “Have I really been violated?” ; “Am I blowing this out of proportion?”: “Have I really violated someone or some code of ethics?”; “What have I really lost?”; and “What is the worst thing that can happen?” are examples. Challenging our own perceptions can sometimes be quite revealing if we do it with complete honesty.
Remember that past emotional wounds leave scars just like physical injuries.
A cut or a broken bone can leave a scar, so it is with emotions. I still have a scar on my knee from when I was 6 years old when learning how to ride a bike with training wheels on it. I also have a mark on my finger from a cut from a can of tomatoes after making stew when I was in my early 20s. These cuts no longer cause me pain but the memory of the event is still there and I can see the scars. If they had not healed properly in the first place, they could have potentially caused me much more difficulties down the road. If anyone has ever broken a bone, they can tell us that the place of breakage is prone to arthritis in later years. But on the other hand, some physicians will tell you that sometimes the place of healing of a broken bone can become much stronger because of the abundance of scar tissue.
Forgiveness is an act of the will.
Sometimes when we have made the effort to forgive, the recurring emotions are remnants of earlier wounds that have not had a chance to heal or require longer time. Forgiveness is an act of the will that occurs most often way before the feelings subside. The emotions are the baggage that still can drag behind. In most cases it takes patience and grace from God for the pain to go away long after the commitment to forgive has been made. It is important to remember that it is always possible to forgive in spite of how grave and difficult the situation. This is possible only because of the example that Jesus gives us. If we attempt with the best of our human intentions, our feelings inevitably get in the way.
Forgiving with the Heart of God
The key to forgiving is actually with God’s heart. A look at the Gospels shows that Jesus put a lot of emphasis on forgiveness. In fact, often when healing a person physically many times Jesus also said, “Your sins are forgiven”. The whole point of His dying on the Cross was to atone for sin. He who was not sin became sin. It is important to leave the door open when considering forgiveness. That means the door to our heart. If we approach the situation with a closed heart, we might miss out on someone’s attempt to reconcile with us. Also when dealing with persons, often it is a matter of swallowing our pride and taking the first step to repair a relationship. This is like being a sacrificial lamb. If efforts are met with rejection, don’t feel defeated but rather pray for the oppressor then go in peace knowing that you have given it your best shot. Don’t be surprised if by praying you find your heart softening. That is a healing by-product of prayer.
Remembering without the pain
Persons challenged with post-traumatic syndrome can testify that recurring memories and flashbacks are frequent obstacles in trying to heal from a past hurt. Fortunately there are some psychotherapeutic techniques that work well in eliminating the emotional charge from bad memories. One can learn to remember without feeling the hurt. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a method that is very helpful in assisting clients to properly reprocess emotions that have become stuck in parts of the brain. There is also help in various mindfulness techniques through meditation and prayer. Prayer not only helps a person to solicit help from God but also teaches discipline in ways to quiet the soul and helps one to achieve greater control over unbridled emotions.
One final note is that in order to be able to receive and give forgiveness one must be able to forgive oneself. Just about everyone has difficulty with self-compassion. Even the narcissist has a wounded inner sense of self. True humility is not being a doormat but acknowledging one’s self worth in relationship to God. It is realizing that one is created in His image and likeness and as such is loved by God unconditionally. True self-compassion is different from self-esteem. Self-esteem has worldly overtones of competitiveness in that one has to do things better than others in order to have value. Self-compassion is different in that it acknowledges that everyone has shortcomings and imperfections but they still have worth. Forgiving oneself allows one “to get over it” by realizing that it is normal to sometimes make mistakes.
|Posted on February 14, 2014 at 11:21 AM||comments (3)|
Another date crossed out on the calendar as I approach another year of my journey. Over a half of a century is definitely in my rear view mirror. I do know that in many ways my “inside self” still feels like that young somewhat carefree girl that once played on the fields of Western New York. It is only when I look in the mirror that I am reminded by my “outside self” that I have been travelling for quite a while.
What have you learned?
When my spouse was a young boy his mother would always have devotions before school with her children. My husband likes to tell the story of how she would often read Sacred Scripture and pray with them before the sun rose. He stated that unfortunately sometimes it was a struggle and often he would fall asleep. At the conclusion of each devotion however she would give them a quiz by asking, “What did you learn?” He recalls that in his drowsiness he could always rely on one quick answer, “Love one another.” This was because at an early age he quickly realized that no matter what was said or read, it always somewhere and somehow contained the message, “Love one another” and in the context of “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).” Smart kid!
So likewise, even today as I encounter being “Over the Hill,” the message of “Love One Another” is still relevant and echoes with “my inside self.” Have I not thought of this before? Have I not visited this before? Yes, but I can honestly say, that with each encounter perhaps I go to a level deeper and even sometimes it is necessary for me to relearn it at a more superficial level what the simple yet profound words of Jesus “Love one another” actually means. It is true that while in this life and on this earth, one cannot fully comprehend the depth and absorb the magnitude of “Love one Another.” Especially since God, Himself is Love.
Needing to learn the same old thing over and over again
I know that there have been times and it will inevitably happen that I will not be as charitable as I should be.This is why the journey continues. I am still learning what it means to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).”
This year I continue to learn even more about God’s power of love through forgiveness and pray for others to learn more as well. I have encountered a quote that has been attributed to various sources (which includes everyone from saints to Confucius to Nelson Mandela) that states “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” The fact that this resounds with persons from so many diverse backgrounds, speaks to me about the vastness of God’s love and forgiveness and the human condition. Life is not so much about making mistakes but in being able to learn and grow from them.
In my work as a Licensed Professional Counselor I encounter so many persons plagued with issues pertaining to guilt, low self-esteem, scrupulosity, and the obsession of perfectionism. Don’t get me wrong, we are to strive to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), but when we make a mistake, God loves us just as we are. How I pray for this message to be screamed into so many souls.
February 15 is the Feast Day of St. Claude de la Columbiere
What makes this saint particularly interesting is that he was the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary, the founder of the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I have had the opportunity to visit Paray-le-Monial , the town in France from where these two great Saints came. This is particularly relevant to my above point. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is precisely the message that no matter how much we have messed up in our lives, the love of Jesus can overcome. This devotion of old is for all people of our time who are afflicted by so many challenges of life.
Falling down is about being humble.
It is not that God trips us up. But life on this earth plagued with original sin will inevitably bring times where we fall down. And humility is not about being a doormat. It is about knowing who we are in relationship to God: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).” This often means being willing to forgive others that might disappoint us. Just like God is waiting and willing to love and forgive each one of us in spite of our shortcomings.
One last note, the older I get the more I believe that the aging process is our last opportunity to become more humble! What can make a person more humble than losing one’s school girl figure, increasingly aching joints, and obtaining a forgetful brain? It is all the more opportunity to join these sufferings to those of Jesus on the Cross. So as I age and reach for another ibuprofen, hopefully I will learn to become humble once and for all.
|Posted on March 10, 2013 at 8:54 AM||comments (0)|
DO IT ANYWAY
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
(This poem is inscribed on the wall of Blessed Mother Theresa’s children’s home in Calcutta, India. She and the Missionaries of Charity have made it popular. Mother Theresa is credited to have revised it from an original poem by Kent M. Keith. Mother Theresa’s version here is obtained from http://prayerfoundation.org/mother_teresa_do_it_anyway.htm)
Definition of charity
I used to think that the word charity meant welfare or a service organization. Dictionary.com defines charity as “generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless;” “something given to persons, a person or persons in need;” “alms;” “a charitable act or work;” “a charitable fund, foundation or institution;” “benevolent feeling especially toward those in need or in disfavor.” So when doing my taxes more charitable organizations always seemed like good news to me.
It wasn’t until journeying into my faith that I discovered that the word for charity also carries huge spiritual significance. Charity, a theological virtue, is synonymous with love. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia charity is defined as: “a divinely infused habit, inclining the human will to cherish God for His own sake above all things, and man for the sake of God.”
So essentially, the true spiritual significance of charity centers on God as the source, the reason, and the end result. Charity’s origin is by divine infusion in that it is a gift from God. Charity’s seat is in the human will. Although sometimes tempered by emotions, charity is essentially an act of the rational will and is not to be confused with our passions. Charity is a specific act and is an outgrowth of one’s relationship to God that spills out to others. Ultimately charity comes from God who is love.
So then are we ever really self-less?
I have often heard it said that no matter what we do, at the heart of it there is some motive for selfish gain. Whether it be for additional deductions on one’s tax return, respect from one’s peers and the community, and/or a cushy seat in heaven next to Jesus. Even I have heard some people say that heaven doesn’t sound like that much fun if it involves sitting on clouds playing harps or praying the rosary all day. Honestly, heaven probably isn’t very much fun if one doesn’t care about ever loving God. However, I have heard it say that hell is a state of complete absence of love. Something to think about, especially if God = love!!
St. Bernard and the four levels of love
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in his classic work On Loving God, describes different levels of charity that a person can achieve in his or her own spiritual journey.
The first degree of love is a person loves him or herself for his or her own sake.This is based on a person being unable to see beyond anything but him or herself. This is a selfish type of love and can be largely materialistic and narcissistic.
The second degree of love is a person loves God for his or her own benefit. This is where one might turn to God to save one’s own neck out of desperation. This relationship is based on what God can do for a person.
The third degree of love is that a person loves God for God’s sake. A person starts to see God for more than just a benefactor but starts to get caught up in awe and the “taste and see that the Lord is good”. This person sees God for who He is and not just what can be obtained.
The fourth degree of love is that person loves him or herself for the sake of God. This one is the most difficult to understand and usually is not obtainable while on this earth and in this life. St. Bernard states: “I would say that a man is blessed and holy to whom it is given to experience this sort, so rare in life, even if it be but once and for the space of a moment.” This is indeed the level where one is indeed free from all selfishness. One loves oneself in God. I personally notice that it is very interesting that the ultimate goal is to be able to love oneself in God. This really speaks to how much God really loves each one of us! Self love is good when it is through love of God.
Charity is almsgiving
When does love of God become love of neighbor? In this season of lent we focus on almsgiving which is an outpouring of charity for others from our love for God.
After all, God is Love (1 John 4:8).