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Guilt or Shame?

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  For some, they are feelings to be avoided as “inappropriate” in our current society. For some, they are tools or weapons used consciously or unconsciously to get children or adults to behave the way we want them to. For some, they are  ever-present and smothering.

I distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt, when internally experienced and heeded, is a productive emotion that leads to a change in negative behavior patterns. It is the “Godly grief” that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as leading to the genuine understanding that I have done wrong and hurt myself and others, and that I need to behave differently. Guilt says, “I have done wrong.”

Shame is a feeling that says, “Something is wrong with me”.  It is a statement describing identity rather than behavior.  It cannot lead to a change in behavior because the problem is “all of me”, as the character Hiccup says in the wonderful movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”.  The language of shame says, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I …”, “I’m always/never…”, “I am (a screw up, a goof ball, a fool, fill in the blank…)”.

Shame speaks with the language of identity (“I am…”) rather than the language of deeds (“I did…”). As such, it makes change nearly impossible to conceive, much less execute. If the problem is who I am rather than what I did, there is no hope for change.

Think about the language you use on yourself.  Think about the language you use on others, or on your kids.  If you say things like “What’s the matter with you?!”, or “You are such a …” as you correct your child, you are very likely shaming them rather than reproving them productively.  Rather speak to their deeds: “That was inappropriate to do.”, or “You hurt your sister. That was wrong.”  In this way, you help train the child’s moral compass and help them to learn how to define right and wrong accurately.  You also make the problem a fixable one rather than a permanent one; the problem is outside the individual rather than the individual themselves.

We can do this for ourselves as well.  When you hear, “Agh!  Why can’t I ever get this done?”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I …”, you are using shame language.  Try shifting from statements of identity to statements of action: “I made a mess of that situation.  I will try to do it differently next time.”, or “I’m sorry I hurt you.”, or  “I see what I did, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Shift your language into language of hope rather than hopelessness.  When you describe genuine wrongdoing, make sure you use the language that describes it as wrong-doing, not wrong-being. It can take work to set the oppressive and impossible weight of shame aside, but it is worth the effort.

Merry Christmas? Or just Christmas?

By: Katy Martin, LPC
As a parent you suddenly realize you have this responsibility of teaching your kid(s) things.  Important things.  Things concerning faith, forgiveness, how to love/care for other people, manners, etc.  These little people who have been entrusted to us are looking for guidance as they grow and learn.  Yikes.
This time of year is no different: the holidays.  For most, it’s probably the busiest, craziest time of year.  We get to decide to prepare for Santa, celebrate Jesus’ birth, or both.  We decorate, go to parties, sit on Santa’s lap, bake Jesus a birthday cake, look at Christmas lights, and visit with family.  (Just to name a few things.)
These decisions are based on our own convictions and desires.  But where do they come from?  Have you stopped to really think about that?  How does faith, family, and your experience affect how you approach this time of year?  
Are the holidays a letdown to you?  Or are they everything you want them to be?
As we approach this influential time with our kids, we also have the opportunity to engage in the traditions we deem important and create the memories we desire for ourselves.  How can you truly make this a MERRY Christmas, and not just Christmas? 

Thankfulness with a Twist

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
“I mistake my happiness for blessing.” – Caedmon’s Call
I don’t want to write this blog today. Seeing as it was timely given the recent holiday, I had decided awhile ago that I would write about thankfulness. Reflecting upon this topic, I pondered how we tend to only give thankful attention to our joys and happiness. Of course, just like you, I very am thankful for those aspects of my life in which I delight and enjoy. However, when I expand my view of my life’s story and path, I can see from this perspective that I am also thankful for the pain, the sadness, the grief, the hardship, and the trials by which I came to be where I am and who I am. There is more to blessing, and more to thankfulness, than the absence of a negative, than merely happiness. I find Jars of Clay lyrics echoing within me as I contemplate the stumbling, the wounding, the mistakes, and the tears I would have never chosen:
“We knew it as a wrong turn
We couldn’t know the things we’d gain
When we reach the other border
We look out way down past the road we came from

We’re looking for redemption
It was hidden in the landscape
Of loss and love and fire and rain
Never would have come this way
Looking for redemption”
                                    -Redemption, Jars of Clay

While in the midst of the fire and rain, I only view my happiness, my joy, my pleasure, my plenty as blessing. I tend to miss the blessing in the landscape of loss and pain. The weight of sorrow rarely, if ever, moves me to thanksgiving as it threatens to crush me. When standing at two paths diverging, the road of suffering does not enchant me.
Expand. Hindsight. Perspective. Process. Reflection. These are necessary for a shift from pain to thankfulness. I am not feeling very thankful for my pain and sorrow today. I do not want to write this blog today, because I am currently feeling the pinching of brokenness. I am filled with the urge to flee, not reflect and give thanks. And I think that is normal. What I can do in the midst of this sorrow, is to remember how many of my blessings have been made up of happiness and pain. I can reflect on the evidence of God’s unending faithfulness in both the Bible and in my own life story. Though I may not be in a thankful place with this present pain, I can recall that once I am no longer in the midst of it, I will likely be grateful for the ways it has changed and grown me, the grace I experienced, and the truth that given the choice I would leave God’s plan for my life unchanged.

Microwave Restoration

Relationships and the Culture of Instant Gratification

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
As I write this, I have leftovers from last night’s dinner warming in the oven.  I am doing this because our microwave blew up a few days ago, and we have yet to replace it.  I am struck by how dependent we have become on the speed and convenience of the microwave.  This is going to take half an hour rather than two minutes.

Even trying to figure out how to do something as simple as warming leftovers feels like rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. I can’t put the plastic container in the oven, so what do I use?  Oh, yeah, that shiny metal paper stuff that we used to use all the time forever ago before microwaves!  It takes more planning and foresight this way as well.  I have to start thinking about making lunch earlier in order to have food ready when I am hungry.

As I stood pacing by the stove, I was struck by how this principle of having it done now invades everything from our kitchens to our relationships.  In life and relationships we want problems to be resolved, and quickly.  I see this frequently when I sit with a couple when there has been a breach of trust between the partners; anything from an exposed lie to an affair.  The offending partner, though they are often very sorry and working hard to rebuild trust, can become impatient when that trust is not rebuilt within a few weeks.  Because they are working hard, they begin to take offense when their mate has “bad days” when the hurt flashes back into their minds and the distrust resurfaces.

Our culture, and I think our human nature in general, has little patience for long-haul relationship maintenance. We have a tendency not to allow for the fact that we are all in process.  We expect that when we communicate to someone that they have hurt us, they should immediately be able to rectify their behavior.  We do not often leave room for the idea that the other person may need time to grow into a new way of being.  When they fail, as most people will when they are attempting to change significantly, we brand them as incapable or unwilling, and keep them at a distance.

We especially need this patience when we are helping our children grow up.  The way they learn how to be patient, responsible people is by seeing and living with patient and responsible adults.  They will of course demonstrate poor behavior.  Most often this is not because they are defiant or rebellious, but rather because they are trying to figure out how to manage in that circumstance.  They need a good model to learn a better way than what they can come up with as a child. And they need to see that good model over and over and over again before they can understand and implement it themselves.

Every relationship takes time and effort in order to maintain and grow it, whether with adults or children.  To get a tiny glimpse of what is required, try unplugging the microwave for a week.

Gloomy weather, gloomy mood

By: Katy Martin, LPC

Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s FINALLY Fall?  It IS November, after all.  The weather is cooler, the leaves are changing and dropping, and time has fallen back.  It’s great for backyard fires, football, walks outside, and playing in leaves.  Well, some of us look forward to these things.
Along with the crisp weather, can bring some gloominess.  A change in mood, along with a change in temperature.  Have you ever paid attention to how the changing seasons affect you?  Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, and I think it often gets overlooked with the distraction and excitement of the upcoming holidays.  Some characteristics include but are not limited to sadness, fatigue, and hopeless thoughts.  These depressive symptoms can feel as gray as the clouds outside.
We are all affected by change, some more than others.  I’d encourage you to explore the severity of your feelings and talk to someone.  There are simple things we can do to combat the winter blues: finding time to exercise, avoiding isolation by making plans with others, eating well, and exposure to sunlight when possible or even light therapy.  Some times it’s helpful to speak with your doctor or counselor if it’s affecting your daily life.
Don’t let the winter blues get the best of you!!

The Depths of Your Heart

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I recently spent time at a lake suffering from significantly low water levels. The state in which I experienced the lake seemed to expose much of what is typically concealed. As I sat by the water’s edge, I observed large logs and rock formations often obscured below the muddled surface of the lake. Observing boats and jet skis avoid these perils while zipping to and fro, I reflected on how normally these dangers are lurking, unseen, just below the water level. This caused me to think of how many of us, myself included, tend to act as recreation seekers, skimming along the surface of our lives with little desire peer into the murkiness found in the depths.
Do you ever find yourself living your life as a recreation seeker? Do you feel as though you are skimming the surface of your life? Do you ever feel as though you keep to the shallows of your heart and story in avoidance?
I think we do this for a number of reasons. Perhaps we are scared of what we might find, or we believe ourselves to be too busy to engage it, or we have experienced others handling the treasures and terrors of our depths in careless or even harmful ways. Regardless of our reasoning, this recreational type of living (i.e. avoidance) causes us to be very susceptible to getting tripped up, stuck, or harmed by the substance of our depth. It is scary to put on your snorkel and mask and peer into the darkness, but I believe failing to do so not only makes us all susceptible to the dangers that may befall us, but it also keeps us (and those around us) from knowing the depth of ourselves.
What would it take to inspect the treasures and terrors of you? What would it be like to invite someone trustworthy and caring, to come along with you as you dive? What would it be like to take a deep breath, and plunge below the surface to see what there is to find?

Living Within the Pain

By: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Nathan Foster said, “As is often the case in life, pain made me teachable.”  C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In Psalm 119 it speaks of experiencing pain.  Psalm 119: 67 says this, “Before I was afflicted (experienced pain) I went astray, but now I keep your word.” (italics mine)  Further down in verse :71 it says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues.”

Is anyone sensing a theme yet from Nathan Foster, C.S. Lewis, and Scripture? 

It seems as though they are all communicating to us that we benefit when we experience pain.  Could this be? 

I don’t know if you would agree with the theme as I have labeled it, but I can say that I think what these men are sharing with us, as well as what Psalm 119 is saying, is indeed true.  Personally I have found myself in much pain these days.  Not physical pain, but emotional pain.  I often sense myself asking this question, “Will I choose to have this pain I am living within lead me to anger and bitterness or lead me to hang on for dear life to the truths of scripture?”

No matter what I choose, living within the pain will remain hard.  What is also hard is that I have to make this choice over and over and over again in the midst of my painful trials.  I have to choose truth over the false beliefs my pain would like me to believe.  And all the while I have to grapple with the understanding that God is allowing my pain. 

At times it seems like too much to bear.  But then I remember Psalm 94:17-19 and I am comforted.  “If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.  When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.  When the cares of my heart are many your consolations cheer my soul.”

And while Psalm 94 comforts me, Psalm 26:3 allows me the strength to continue in the painful trials I face assured of God’s goodness towards me, “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.”

What I realized when I read Psalm 26:3 is that I endure all that I endure, I learn all that I learn, I am able to claim for my own that I am a daughter of the King, and I am able to put one foot in front of the other everyday simply because I walk in His faithfulness to me.  You see, no matter what the current storyline of my life is, God’s faithfulness to me allows me to endure.  I am thankful for God’s faithfulness to me.  I am thankful that in my pain He cheers my soul.    

The Cubs Killed my Fandom

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I grew up in Chicago watching the Cubs play baseball.  As a kid, I remember hating the fact that baseball interrupted my afternoon cartoons all the time (this was before Wrigley had lights). I watched some of the games, and I remember sometimes getting excited when they would get ahead.  But inevitably, they blew it in the 8th or the 9th, and the disappointment was bitter.  In 1984 (Yes, I had to look that up: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/), they came close to winning it all, but they blew that, too.  I haven’t “followed” them, or anyone else, since.

Because of recurring disappointment, I lost my enthusiasm for sports.  I do not consider myself a “fan” of any team.  There are few names and no stats that are readily recognizable to me.  The only reason I know Pujols plays first base is because I live in Saint Louis, and I went to a game once when my son won free tickets for us.  There are other factors that have influenced my lack of affiliation with the sporting world, but I credit the Cubs with most of it: one can only handle so much disappointment before shutting those feelings down.

The trouble is that I don’t experience the high of a close game, the joy of celebrating a victory pulled from the jaws of defeat.  When the Cards suddenly hit their hot streak this year and pulled out a win for the Wild Card slot (I confess that I don’t really know what that even means), I nodded and smiled.  When the Rays did the same (and I likewise confess that I didn’t know there was a major league baseball team named the Rays until earlier this year), I have friends in Tampa whose celebrations resounded on Facebook.  I nodded and smiled.

A basic principle that is demonstrated by this story is that risk and disappointment seem to be inseparable from joy.  We cannot shut down disappointment without likewise shutting down joy.  Joy and pain operate on the same switch. We tend to protect ourselves from hurt, which is natural and helpful in the short term.  When this shutting down becomes a way of life, however, it robs us of our joy in the long run.

People let us down.  People harm us.  Trusting others with our hearts and with our dreams often leads to pain.   We rightly withhold ourselves from those who recklessly and selfishly feed upon us.  When we generalize this distrust (“All men are predators.”, “All women are emasculating.”, “Trust no one.”, “Look out for number one because no one else will.”) we begin to lose our capacity to experience joy.   We lose out when we do not risk entrusting ourselves to anyone out of fear that they, too, will hurt us.

It seems like the greater risk, the longer wait, and the deeper disappointment all lead to a reciprocally greater joy. I think of the Red Sox when they finally broke the curse of the Bambino (and I don’t really know why he cursed them).  The fans spilled into the streets for hours and days.  Smiles, laughter, and an entire city’s communal joy resounded.  I can’t imagine what Chicago will look like if that ever happens for the Cubs.  It will be a madhouse.  I will likely smile and nod.

What parts of your heart are you withholding, and from whom?  Where is your joy deadened?  Is life kind of flat for you?  When was the last time a celebratory shout left your lips before you realized it?  When have you felt your pulse quicken, or realized that there was a goofy grin glued to your face? These are just some diagnostic questions to help you sort out the places you are hiding from risk and pain at the expense of your joy.

Will I ever be a fan again?  Maybe.  Honestly, it probably won’t be with the Cubs.  I might risk it for a team that won’t interrupt my cartoons, or one that wins more than once a century.  I do, however, envy those Die Hard Cubs fans if and when their curse is broken (or when the Illuminati finally decide to take pity and let them win, depending on your conspiracy theory subscription).  I envy them the exponential joy they will experience. They have been waiting and hoping faithfully for a long time.  The fans deserve it.  Some call them fools, but I laud them for their persistence and loyalty.  It will be a mind-bending ride.

Technological Food for Thought

By: Katy Martin, LPC


I’m sure that everyone, by this time, has heard that Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, has passed away after a long battle with cancer.  The news has been everywhere: websites, newsfeeds, facebook, emails, tv, etc.

I find it ironic that I heard the news via my husband’s AM radio as he listened to the Cardinals game, but that’s beside the point.

To be honest, I knew nothing about him prior to this week.  Sure, I know he was a genius and that he was probably beyond rich.  I’m sad that it was in his passing that I learned so much more.

Steve Jobs really was a genius, a creative genius, who worked hard and claimed to be living his dream.  He had a family whom he talked about loving very much.  He was adopted as a baby, given a home.  He has had a huge impact on technology as we see it now.  His creations and innovations were his passion and truly exciting to him.  Media is painting the picture that he lived a full, rich life.


As I reflect on the impact this man’s life and passing appear to have, I wonder what kind of impact we are all making.  Do you live with the same passion?  Do you find joy in life?  Are you accomplishing what you would like to accomplish?  Or are you just trying to survive each day and maybe looking forward to the next big thing?

I didn’t personally know Steve Jobs, but I still can’t help believe that he really did love life and made the most of his time here on earth.



The good news: every day is a new day.  We have the opportunity to create goals, fulfill dreams, and really love the people who are around us.  We can seek forgiveness, give forgiveness, and find emotional healing.


The best news: Jesus states in John 10:10 that He came to give us life and life to the FULL.  Do you believe this?  What would it look like to invite God into the struggle you have to find joy and fulfillment?  


What would it take for you to begin living a full life?  After all, today is a new day and tomorrow begins a new week.

Change and Loss

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
Every change involves a loss. While we tend to limit the extent to which we allow ourselves to grieve and process unwelcomed loss and change, even more often I think we deny ourselves the freedom to grieve the losses that accompany longed for or beneficial change. Even those welcomed and “good,” every change brings with it necessary and non-optional forfeitures. Preschool graduation lets go of toddlerhood. A new house forces goodbye to the home of many memories. A wedding signifies shifts in many relationships, not only one. Job transition causes competence to be compromised. Moving out of town sacrifices the security of the familiar.
 
There is comfort in consistency. There is safety in what is known. Feeling both “positive” and “negative” emotions simultaneously about one circumstance can be confusing and at times frustrating. It is much easier to stuff down or ignore away the less pleasant emotions than to allow the two to coexist. However, if we allow ourselves to embrace this tension and ambivalence, we will live more honestly, be more connected to our own hearts, and experience the full reality of what every change entails for us. How do we begin to we do this? By allowing ourselves to acknowledge the presence and the weight of the loss. What losses in your life story have brought ambivalent feelings? What good things have you had to let go of in the midst of attaining other good things?
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France