Monday, February 10, 2014

Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

In the Bible, we find a verse in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that says, “...for we walk by faith, not by sight...”.  I have heard that verse my entire life, but I have never really given it much thought until this year as I began to study the book of Hebrews.  For the past 5 years, I have read my Chronological Bible  every day.  At the end of last year, however, I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to start digging a bit deeper this year and he suggested we study the book of Hebrews.  I went to the Christian book store and selected a book by Warren Wiersbe on Hebrews.  The theme of the study was: Live by Faith, Not by Sight.  

Let me digress a bit.  After my first husband died from cancer 5 years ago, I felt burdened by the financial weight that had been placed on my shoulders.  I not only had to take care of myself, but both of my children, one who was in college.  Even though God came through for us at every turn, I still worried about what the next day would bring.  When I remarried last year, my husband pointed out to me that I was still living in fear and not trusting God to take care of all of my needs.  I had never seen it this way - I thought it was my responsibility to worry and that I was being a responsible adult.  But is that really the way God wants us to live?  I decided that this year, my theme would be to walk by faith, not by sight.  So beginning this year, any time I would have a worrisome thought, I would say out loud; “I will walk by faith, not by sight”. This means that at that moment, I was choosing to stop focusing on the things I could see that worried me, but I was focusing instead on the promises of God to take care of me.  This doesn’t mean that I can stop being responsible for where my money goes or stop caring about things that are important.  It means that I have chosen to stop worrying about it.  

Our world around us seems to be falling apart.  The changes going on around us seem so unreal and scary.  If our faith is on things in the world and not on God Who created the world, then we will be shaken.  We tend to put our faith in money, careers, friends, possessions, physical appearance, etc.  If we lose our job, we tend to panic; if our bank account gets too low, we panic; if things don’t go the way we planned, we panic.  But if we look at these same things with eyes that understand how much God loves us and wants to take care of us, then we can relax and trust that it is something that God has allowed in our lives to teach us.

In my work with adolescents and adults, I have often used this example:  If your student is given homework from school, do you stand at the door when they get home from school with your arms out and say, “Give me your homework so I can do it for you because I love you so much.”?  Heavens, no.  Both adults and adolescents understand the concept that if the parents do their homework for them, then they will never learn anything.  Homework is given for the specific purpose of having the student practice things they learned at school so they can understand it and master that skill.  In this same way, God allows us to do our own ‘homework’.  Can He step in and rescue us from difficulties?  Of course.  But does He? Not very often.  He wants us to learn the lessons on our own.  This will increase our faith for the next lesson.  And just like school, these lessons get a bit more difficult as we grow.  Is it possible to never have problems in this life?  Not really.  We would never appreciate a beautiful sunny day if we never experienced a storm.  But I believe that the problems we have in this life give us opportunities to grow closer to God and allow Him to teach us how to handle these problems.  So the next time something comes into your life to cause stress and worry, try walking by faith and not by sight.  You will discover true peace.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Just Say No

One of the ‘hot topics’ in counseling has always been setting boundaries.  In other words, how to say ‘no’ to demands on our time, invitations to do something we really don’t want to do, or even handling our children’s unreasonable requests.  This is not just a problem for parents, but also for individuals as well.  It is difficult to set healthy boundaries for ourselves and say ‘no’ when we need to.  But not being able to say ‘no’ can lead us down a road that we may not want to go down.  I believe this is why so many people are way overcommitted with things that take up their time.

I often have parents ask me how to handle their children when they ask for something they obviously can’t have.  Many parents just tell them ‘no’ without giving it a thought, but this often results in a temper  tantrum.  I even witnessed parents lie to a child in Target one day, by allowing the child to think he was getting a toy truck.  They allowed the child to put it in the basket, but when they got to the checkout counter, they whispered to the clerk to put the truck back because they weren’t buying it.  The child watched with eagle eyes to see if the truck made it into the shopping bag.  When he realized what had happened, he started to wail.  At this point, the parents grabbed him by the arm and basically drug him out of the store.  Oh what problems this family is going to have with that boy as he grows up and starts to lie to them!  I had to restrain myself from following them out and letting them know the harm they had just done.

When my daughter was three, we were shopping in a grocery store around Easter.  As we walked in, we were welcomed by a huge tower of stuffed Easter bunnies.  Her eyes widened and I asked her if she wanted to play with one while we shopped.  I knew I was not going to buy it for her.  She enjoyed playing with the bunny the entire time I grocery shopped.  Then, before I got in line at the checkout, I took a few minutes to talk to her about this bunny.  “Honey, did you enjoy getting to play with the bunny today?” She nodded.  I told her, “You see all those bunnies over there?  Well they are all friends.  I know you really like this bunny and I wish we could bring him home, but he lives here with his friends.  Now you have a choice: you can choose to put the bunny back with his friends and next time we come, you can play with him again.  Or you can get upset about it and next time we come, you can just look at them instead of playing with them.  Now, what do you choose to do?”  She thought hard for a minute, then she decided she wanted to put him back.  Simple as that, she allowed me to push the cart back to the bunnies and she watched as I put him back.  No temper tantrum.  No power struggle.  Just a few minutes to reason with her and she understood.  And she always got to play with something from then on as I shopped.

A good way to say ‘no’ to a child is to explain the situation, then give them a choice, as I did in the example above. The two choices need to be something you will agree to.  Next, allow the child to think a minute and make their choice, which empowers them to feel a bit more in control.  For example, “You can choose to do your homework now and watch TV with us after dinner,” or “You can choose to wait until after dinner to do your homework instead of watching TV with us.”  Either choice is a good choice because the homework will get done no matter what.  

The second way to say ‘no’, is by giving them what they wish for.  This is usually the best way to handle adults.  If you are asked to chair a committee, or attend a performance and you really don’t have time to do these things, you can simply say ‘no’, which sounds pretty rude.  Or you can say, “I really wish I could, but I can’t.”  Consider this:  You are riding in a car with a friend or spouse and you spot your dream car on the road.  You comment that you love that car and want to own one.  Your friend/spouse replies, “Are you crazy? You know you can’t afford to buy a car like that. Stop dreaming!”  Stop for a moment and think of how you feel if you hear this.  Now, what if they say, “Wow, that is a nice car.  I didn’t know that was your favorite car.  I wish you could buy one some day.”  Does that response make you feel a little better?  Both responses clearly indicated that you could not afford to buy that car, but the second response let you know that the person understood your desire to have it.  This is how people (and children) feel when we give them their wish.  It lets them know we understand the importance of it, but at the same time, setting healthy boundaries for ourselves because we can’t possibly stretch ourselves any more.

When my son was 3, he came to me one night after I had put him to bed.  He knew I had bought some Oreo cookies at the store earlier that night.  He asked if he could have one.  I knew there was no way he was going to get a cookie at this hour.  My response was, “Ooh, an Oreo cookie does sound good right about now.  I really wish I could give you one.  But you know, it’s really late to be eating a cookie.  How about we pick out a couple of cookies and put them in a special baggie so they will be yours to eat tomorrow?”  He readily agreed to this and went back to bed with no problem.  And I followed through by giving him his cookies after lunch.  

Sure, it’s way easier to ‘just say no’ to people, but it is far better to stop a minute and take the time to give someone their wish and let them know we really do care about them.  And it will help us to set healthier boundaries for ourselves.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Who's The Boss?

How often do you get to be the boss?  I asked a 5 year old this question and her reply was “Not ever!”  How delighted she was when I was able to tell her that “in here, you get to be the boss” as I escorted her to my playroom.  

Think about the life of a child.  It’s true that they never (or rarely) get to be the boss.  They are told when to get up in the morning, when and what they can eat, when to go to school, when to do their homework, what to wear, what time they have to go to bed, etc.  They basically have very few choices of their own.  And when things in their world fall apart (parents fight or divorce, a death occurs in either a pet or someone they know, their teacher isn’t nice to them, their house gets flooded in a bad storm, they get yelled at repeatedly by someone...) they have nowhere to go to find answers that will comfort them.  That’s why the playroom is so helpful in the life of a child.  

In the playroom, a child feels important.  The messages we provide to children are:  “I’m here; I hear you; I care; and I understand.”  No matter what is going on in a child’s world, being able to be the boss for 30 minutes works wonders in their life.  Play is a vitally important activity for children.  Not just play itself, but their ability to choose what they want to do in their play.  Being allowed to ‘be the boss’ lets them know that whatever they want to do is important.  They can make a total mess if they want, they can throw things if they want, they can pretend to be a powerful warrior if they want, they can pretend to be a famous singer if they want...and the list goes on.  I’ve been allowing children to ‘be the boss’ for over 21 years, yet I am still amazed at the power it has to help a child heal from whatever life has thrown at them.  

When is the last time you allowed a child to ‘be the boss’?  If only for a few minutes, it will enhance your relationship with that child.  Even if the child makes a complete mess, it will be well worth the time and effort you put into it.  Try it sometime.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Let's Pretend...

Pretend:  To make believe; to imagine and act out.  This is a word that many children don’t get to hear anymore.  A few weeks ago I found myself saying this word to a four year old boy as I was verbally tracking him in the playroom.  He has had a pretty tough life.  Mom and dad are divorced and he’s an only child caught in the middle of their feuding.  He looks forward to coming to play with me.  On this particular day, he was sitting in front of the miniature house as he moved the family members up and down the stairs.  He found a tiny popcorn box and said he was going to eat some popcorn. I told him that I loved to pretend to eat popcorn. He moved to the kitchen and started to ‘cook’.  I told him to be careful not to ‘burn’ himself on the stove.  He was having so much fun as he pretended to cook some food.  As he came up with ideas, I would go along with them as I joined him in his pretend world.  The smile on his face warmed my heart. 

A few years ago I had another small boy come into the playroom.  He looked around for a bit, then he asked me where my TV was.  I told him, “In here, we use something called our imagination.”  He replied, “Aw man, this is boring.” He was disappointed because all he knew to play with were his electronic gadgets.  After about 5 minutes, his imagination kicked in and he pretended to be a big monster. He put his feet into the large monster slippers and put on the monster gloves.  After finding a monster mask and adding a hat, he was having the time of his life.  From then on, he never again asked about anything electronic.  He had learned how to pretend.

Children need to have times when they are allowed to pretend and create the world they want.  This is what they are able to do when they attend play therapy.  When the world they live in is upsetting for them, they can come and create a make believe world where everything is better, where everyone gets along, where they are powerful, where they can protect themselves with toy swords, and where they can enjoy some relaxing play with an adult who spends the entire time focused on them.

If you have the privilege of being around children, don’t forget how to pretend with them.  It will totally make your day.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tired of going in circles?

Many times we find ourselves making the same mistakes over and over again.  We try different approaches, we ask our friends for advice, we read self help books, etc.  But nothing seems to change. So we get discouraged and start to lose hope that things will ever change.

In the Bible, the Israelites found themselves in much the same predicament when they had been wandering in the desert for 40 years.  I'm sure they were growing tired of literally going in circles.  Do you know what God said to them in the midst of their frustration?  In Deuteronomy 2:3, God said, "You have circled this mountain long enough.  Now turn north."

That is about the best advice I've ever heard.  Now turn north.  What does that mean in our lives?  It means to look North (to God).  Seek His wisdom in making the changes you need to make in your life.  Read the Bible daily. Start attending a Bible study.  Join an online Bible study.  Pray more.  Go to a Bible teaching church regularly.  When you begin to focus more on God, you find that His focus has been on you all along.  He wants to help you but He won't help us if we don't ask Him to.

I've counseled many people over the last 21 years.  Many of them were going in circles and looking for answers.  I'm supposed to provide the answers.  When I point people to the Answer, their problems become smaller and they have more peace.

A little over five years ago, I lost my husband suddenly to cancer.  Cancer was literally diagnosed 3 weeks before he died.  We were all very shocked and numb over this.  My daughter was a freshman in college and my son was a freshman in high school.  I did not have a clue how to navigate this new course my life had taken.  I also had counseling clients depending on my wisdom.  I didn't have time to wallow in my new status as a 'widow'.  What did I do?  I turned North.  I clung to God like a small child clings to daddy's legs.  I bought a Chronological Bible and started reading it every day.  I prayed for wisdom and for help.  And I was at peace.  Looking back, I realize that for every little bump along the road, God had already been there ahead of me preparing the way.  My children are doing well.  And I remarried last year.  God is so very good to us.

So I ask again:  "Are you going in circles in your life?"  My advice to you is "Now Turn North."