coping

Soul P.M.

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

I have just returned from a very nice, relaxing vacation.  We were quite thoroughly “off the grid”: away from cities, away from crowds, away from cell phone signal, internet, and even electricity.  It was refreshing … after about a day and a half of electronics withdrawal.

When I’m not on vacation, I depend a great deal on my phone.  All my appointments are stored there in my schedule, along with contact information and a glut of other data that is fairly important.  I take a great many phone calls, texts, and e-mails about business and clients.  It has become a (bad) habit to give my attention to the thing whenever it blings, dings, beeps, or whistles.  When it does not do so for more than an hour or two, I find myself compulsively looking at it to see if I missed something.

Out in the woods, I found myself repeatedly grasping my pocket where my phone usually resides and, finding nothing there, experiencing a brief moment of panic: “Where did I leave it?  Did I lose it?”  Then I remembered that it was turned off and stowed in the glove box alongside the other useless stuff: the owner’s guide for my truck, 27 maps for places we weren’t, and a stick and a half of year-old gum.

Even on the third day, my wife and I found ourselves in information withdrawal: what was the weather going to be today, and how would that influence our decisions on activities and preparations?  We needed to know!!  We never did find out, and –gasp– we survived unharmed.

A mentor of mine told me once: “Always, Always, Always take a vacation every year. Make the time.”  Especially in the helping professions, but in all walks of life, rest and self-care is critically important.  In the military they call it “P.M.”: Preventive Maintenance.  It means stopping before things break in order to keep them from breaking.  It means taking the truck, gun, or equipment out of use and circulation for a period of time, doing without it, in order to keep it functioning optimally.

Many of us are bad at PM for our hearts and souls.  We usually wait until we feel bad or until something in our world “breaks” before we stop to rest.  This is a mistake.  We run ourselves into the ground and we cease to function well, serving poorly, working poorly, and living poorly.

How long has it been since you went off the grid (whatever that looks like in your world)?  How long since you stopped and took care of your heart and mind and soul?  Do something that relaxes, refreshes, recharges you.  Get out of your routine for a while.  You’ll know you are starting to do it when you have those moments where you wonder what has fallen apart that you could have taken care of or prevented.  When you get to that point, don’t stop.  Take another day.

Or two.  It will keep.

Let it go.  Go on.

PM yourself.

–JH

Why can’t I handle it on my own?

By: Andy Gear

When I think about life before the Fall, I don’t think of people going around lonely. But that thought comforted me because I realized loneliness in my own life doesn’t mean I am a complete screwup, rather God made me this way. You always picture the perfect human being as somebody who doesn’t need anybody, like a guy on a horse in Colorado or whatever. But here is Adam, the only perfect guy in the world, and he is going around wanting to be with somebody else, needing another person to fulfill a certain emptiness in his life . . . I wondered at how beautiful it is that you and I were created to need each other. The romantic need is just the beginning, because we need our families and we need our friends. In this way, we are made in God’s image. Certainly God does not need people in the way you and I do, but He feels a joy at being loved, and He feels a joy at delivering love. It is a striking thought to realize that, in paradise, a human is incomplete without a host of other people. We are relational indeed
Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
I often feel like I should be able to handle all my problems on my own. Images of John Wayne and Bruce Willis float through my mind as I suck up my pain and try unsuccessfully to pull myself back up by my bootstraps. If only I just relied on God more, all my loneliness would just melt away. But as I read the first chapters of Genesis, I begin to question this assumption. Adam walked in the garden in perfect fellowship with God, and even then God said that Adam needed other people. He didn’t create us to be lone wolves. He created us to need each other, and He doesn’t call this weakness. He calls it being made in the image of God. We are relational, like our Father.

Growth in maturity doesn’t mean learning to solve all our problems on our own. Seeking caring, empathetic, and authentic relationship is not a concession for the weak. It is the wisdom that comes from realizing who we were made to be. We were not made to ‘stick it out’ on our own. In the Old Testament God called a family and a nation. In the New Testament He called His church to do life as a community of brothers and sisters. He wanted us to understand our need for help in this journey. Why can’t I handle it on my own? It’s not because there is something wrong with me. I was never meant to do it alone.  

Facing Plenty

By Jonathan Hart, LPC


Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


The concept of “facing plenty” has bugged me for a long time.  We don’t often use the language of “facing…” when we are talking about a good thing.  “I was facing a time of wealth and comfort, but I made it through by the grace of God.”  But this is the language Paul uses: plenty and abundance are something to be faced, in a parallel way to facing lack and poverty.  There are unique challenges in having plenty and abundance, and they can be as difficult as having want and need.


Part of the challenge, I think, comes from our habit of thinking that plenty and abundance are “the norm” and that anything less is a burden to be borne and overcome as soon as possible.  I can’t imagine relating to abundance in this way.  “I have too much money.  I have to get rid of it somehow and get back to scraping by from check to check!”  How many people are dropping into horrific debt in order to “maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed”?  


When we are in pain, grief, loss, hurt, or distress, we do one thing uncommonly well: we complain.  We articulate our pain, we feel every inch of it and talk about it in the hopes of finding someone who can identify with it and tell us it’s OK to feel that way about it.  What if we “complained” about our abundance the same way?  What if we treated our abundance and surplus the same way we treated our challenges and loss?  We don’t often do this because of our misconception that plenty and abundance are the norm: we are entitled to them and therefore they are not noteworthy.

I encourage many people to “wallow” in their good times, to store them up in memory and savor them richly.  I encourage people to concentrate on being fully present in the joy of the moment and holding on to it so that when it passes (as it inevitably will), we can more fully recall it and taste it again in our mind.  Articulate and “complain” about how good things are, much as we articulate and complain about our pain, because joy and pain alike are part of living in a broken world.

I am not talking about disassociating from joy and pain, as much of Christianity is taught to do: “Times are bad, but the joy of the Lord is my strength!!  I don’t feel the pain because Jesus is so good!”  I am actually encouraging us to feel the joy – and the pain – more fully.

This practice can give us much more resilience and strength to last through the difficult times.  We can soothe our hearts and minds on the fact that pain and shortfall are not all that has ever been, that resources come and go, that pain, like joy, is temporary in this life.  The seasons continue to turn, and life is more than this present moment;  the joy of last year still exists, even though this moment is hard, and the joy that I knew then will come again in time.

This practice helps us hold on more tenaciously to times of plenty as well.  We can practice the recognition that this joy is temporary and that it is a gift, rather than an entitlement. Nothing draws our attention to life more than a death in the family.  Nothing raises our awareness of the value of our spouse or children than to hear that a friend has lost those most precious to them.  If we can practice this mental discipline of savoring our joy and plenty because it is temporary, we will live and enjoy it much more fully.