Saturday, August 27, 2016

How to Help the Hurting

People are hurting all around us. Everywhere we look there is pain and suffering. It can be overwhelming.

As Christians, sometimes it’s difficult to know how we should respond to the hardships experienced by others. Their suffering may come in a variety of forms. Those categories include physical/medical problems, hunger and homelessness, abuse and neglect, grief and loss, guilt and shame, emotional difficulties such as depression and anxiety, or broken relationships.

The question is this: What would Jesus have us do when confronted with the suffering of others?

While I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, I'd like to make a few suggestions to help you help others.

Be present.

In other words, show up in person! There is tremendous power in a ministry of presence. After all, Jesus’ ministry was incarnational by its very nature. He made himself physically present to humanity and all its suffering, showing up in person to help and heal.

John 1:14 (ESV) says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Job’s friends did their best work in providing support and comfort when they simply remained quiet in their attentive presence (Job 2:11-13). Did you know that the words LISTEN and SILENT are comprised of the same letters?

Be patient.

People who are suffering are often confused, frustrated, scared, angry, and demoralized. They need tender loving care that might require a significant sacrifice of time and the gift of patience on your part. Their faith is often tested and their emotions are frequently all over the place.

They may even lash out at you since you’re close by with displaced feelings arising from their anxiety. Realize that it’s not about you, but rather their deep-seated pain. Therefore, give them the benefit of the doubt and demonstrate much patience and kindness. Try to put yourself in their shoes and be empathetic.

Be prayerful.

Pray for individuals who are suffering. Remember them in your personal prayers when you’re alone. Also, offer to pray with them, but don’t force it on them. James 5:16 (ESV) says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Keep in mind that it is God who has the real power to help and strengthen the weak. Plug in to your spiritual power source through prayer.

Be polite.

Respect the space and privacy of those who are hurting. When visiting someone in the hospital or in his or her home, don’t overstay your welcome. Follow their lead and pay attention to social cues. Sometimes, individuals simply aren’t up for a visit for whatever reason. Perhaps they’re just physically tired and need rest at the moment. Or else, they would like to be alone for time to decompress and relax.

Often the best visit is a short one. A brief phone call may actually be more appreciated at times. Also, be careful not to insult their intelligence by imposing your own personal opinion and perspective on what they should or shouldn’t do. Respect their freedom to choose their own course of action. And limit your advice giving.

Be practical.

Instead of saying something like, “If there’s ever anything I can do, don’t hesitate to ask,” actually think of hands-on ways you can help. If they are ill or injured, maybe they need some meals provided, house-cleaning, or yard work assistance. Perhaps they would benefit from transportation to and from doctor’s appointments.

Maybe they’re desperate for some free childcare. If they are financially strained, they could likely use some cash. Whatever the circumstances, think of practical avenues whereby you could provide some real aid. Offer specific things you’re prepared to do, but leave it up to them to decide if they feel comfortable accepting your help.

If they’re not in a position to respond for some reason, just take care of whatever needs to be done. In Matthew 25:35-40 Jesus describes this type of hands-on, practical care in providing food, shelter, clothing, and emotional support.

Be positive.

Those who are suffering are generally in need of consolation and hope. Remind them that they’re not alone and that God will see them through come what may.

As a caregiver, try to remain optimistic and upbeat. Positivity is contagious. Encourage sufferers not to give up in the face of their struggles. Remind them that things usually have a way of working out in the end when we keep our trust in the Lord.

Romans 8:28 (ESV) says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Let us bring hope to a broken world as we display the love and compassion of Christ.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Living with Depression is Hard, but not Hopeless

Depression may be a part of you, but it's not all of you. It doesn't need to define you or your life. Sometimes depression can make you feel worthless, powerless, and hopeless. But don't believe those malicious lies. That is distorted melancholic thinking without any basis in reality.
Remember in God's eyes you're valuable. You're special. You're loved. And your future remains firmly secured in His capable hands. 
So please don't give up. It's important to recognize you're not alone. Be kind to yourself. Seek the help you need to get through today. Hold onto hope.

Psalm 43:5 (ESV) states:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

HeartPoint Blog Survey Results

It’s been a couple of months since I posted my HeartPoint Blog Interest Survey. Thanks so much for all of you who participated in it and gave your feedback concerning topics that you would find most relevant to your life in future blog posts.

I thought you’d be interested in seeing what the Top Twelve Topics are. They are as follows along with their popularity rating:
  1. Marriage (52.9%)
  2. Family & Parenting Issues (43.1%)
  3. Ways to Serve (37.3%)
  4. Prayer (33.3%)
  5. Depression (31.4%)
  6. Anxiety (27.5%)
  7. Discipleship (and Following Jesus) (25.5%)
  8. Handling Your Emotions (23.5%)
  9. Addictions (21.6%)
  10. Grief (21.6%)
  11. Dealing with Conflict (21.6%)
  12. Spiritual Leadership (21.6%)

Interestingly enough, the last four (of the 12) tied at 21.6% popularity.

While I’m certainly not saying I’ll never write on any topics outside of these ones, I will most certainly focus a good deal of attention on them in moving forward with my blog.

Thanks again for your valuable input!

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Two Sides of Shame

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” This was a saying I heard more than once during my childhood. And you know what? My parents were generally right. My brother’s and my behavior was often inappropriate—even shameful—and we were deserving of reprimand and discipline. Our consciences needed to be sensitized.

These days, we live in a society that has lost its ability to blush at sin. Now that’s indeed a shame!

In the past few years, it has been a popular tendency among social psychologists to posit shame as always being unhealthy and counter-productive. Researchers like Brené Brown have polarized guilt and shame making them seem mutually exclusive. To summarize her perspective, she basically believes guilt is healthy and adaptive, while shame is always unhealthy and maladaptive. In other words, guilt = good, but shame = bad.

I admit there are parts of Brown’s novel point of view that are appealing, insightful, and helpful. However, as a whole I believe it is over-simplistic and one-dimensional.

Her argument basically goes like this: Guilt is helpful because it holds something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values, thus keeping us accountable. Shame, on the other hand, is the trap of believing we are fundamentally flawed and therefore unworthy of love, acceptance, and meaningful connection.

In this narrow paradigm, shame is a focus on self, while guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame results in us arriving at the negative and self-damaging conclusion: “I am bad. I am a mistake.” Whereas guilt acknowledges, “I did something bad. I made a mistake,” but ultimately motivates us to right the wrong.

Brown contends shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. And in some ways she’s correct.

At first glance, Brown’s perspective is rather interesting and insightful. But if we investigate it a bit deeper, I believe we will find it’s fundamentally flawed. What she fails to recognize is the reality that more than one category of shame exists. It’s unwise to lump them all together and view them as if they’re all the same thing. They’re not!

To discover emotional and spiritual freedom, we need to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy shame.

If we’re feeling inner distress and embarrassment because of something irresponsible we did that hurt someone, this is the healthy version of shame. The painful (perhaps queasy) feeling is telling us that something contradicted our value system. It’s an internal alarm system signaling to us we’re in the wrong. Therefore, in order to regain our sense of personal and relational well-being, we need to make amends and rectify the situation.

By way of contrast, unhealthy shame occurs when we internalize other people or society’s standards and expectations, and we feel obligated to maintain the popular or politically correct status quo. It also occurs when we allow ourselves to be defined by a weakness or something over which we have no control, including victimhood or abuse from childhood.

Perfectionism on our part and the inability to live up to our own unrealistic standards may also lead to unhealthy shame. Furthermore, sometimes others say or do things to intentionally hurt us or shame us into submission.

While excessive shame is at the root of much anxiety and depression, a lack of shame is frequently the basis of immoral and unethical behavior.

Shame is the first emotion mentioned in the Bible when Adam and Eve felt it for disobedience to God (Gen. 3:1-12). After Cain murdered his brother Abel, Cain’s lack of remorse and absence of shame posed a significant problem (Gen. 4:3-12). The men of Sodom and Gomorrah lacked shame when they sought to sodomize the disguised male angelic visitors who visited Lot (Gen. 19:1-11).

Jacob shamefully plotted to steal Esau’s birthright (Gen. 25:27-34) and then later conspired with Rebekah, his mother, to also rob Esau of the firstborn’s blessing (Gen. 27). Joseph’s brothers initially lacked shame for their grievous sin against him and their father when they sold him into slavery and deceived their father into believing his favorite son had been ripped apart by wild animals (Gen. 37). About 22 years later, they experienced shame when confronted by their brother again in Egypt, now the prime minister (Gen. 45).

Having excessive shame is better than lacking it altogether. Such individuals behave in socio-pathological ways. They’re manipulative, arrogant, and sadistic as they take pleasure in exploiting and hurting others. Their consciences are seared. Their only ambition is material gain, power, and prestige. They display no compassion for those they use and abuse.

Healthy shame can serve to safeguard us from pursuing things that threaten our social identity and relationships. It makes us appropriately care about what others think of us, and thus helps us weigh out the relational consequences of our actions.

Prov. 13:5 (ESV) says, “The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.”