The month of October was designated Pastor's Appreciation Month. I wasn't even aware that there was such a "season" but I was pleasantly surprised when I came into my office one day to discover approximately 150 "sticky notes" pasted throughout my office; all with kind words of appreciation and encouragement. Needless to say, this made my day.
Sometimes we forget the power of kind words, even little ones. Obviously these notes did not contain lengthy comments. They were not "letters of appreciation." But they spoke! They spoke in a powerful way. As I read them I thought about the wise use of words as emphasized in Proverbs 12. Vs. 18 reads, "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Vs 25 says, "Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up." And in vs 6 we read, "The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them." What tremendous power resides in the way we use our words!
Who in your life needs a word of encouragement today? Your spouse? Child? Friend? I think you will know who. Our words can be used to tear others down, but they can also be used to bring healing and hope. Perhaps it is time for each of us to rediscover the power of a kind word!
Often I find that scripture gets right to the heart of a matter and provides wonderful guidance for our prayers and reflection. Sometimes the scriptures cause us simply to ask the right questions! Psalm 139:23-24 is a perfect example: "Search me, God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." These are powerful petitions which invite us to ask four key questions:
First, Is there something about myself that I need to know? Let's face it, we all have our "blind spots." These are things about ourself that may be obvious to others but are often hidden from us. In some cases even our family and friends are unable to discern our blind spots, but God is One who can search us and fully know our heart. By asking this question of God we are inviting Him to reveal to us things about ourselves that may otherwise never be known. Having this awareness, through God's revealing grace, gives us new insight about ourself and enables us to make changes where needed. By asking this question in a sprit of prayer we offer ourselves to God's continued work in our life.
Second, Am I worrying about anything? The anxious thoughts of our heart are not always obvious to us. Sometimes we develop such a habit of fretting and worrying that we become almost oblivious to the destructive power at work within us. The Scriptures implore us to "cast all of our cares on Him" but before we can do this we must first become aware of the thoughts and concerns that trouble our spirit and mind. This question helps us to identify and deal with anxiety that may be residing with our heart.
Third, Is there a sin I need to confess? The human heart is not designed to carry the burden of sin. We have this promise, "If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 Jn 1:8) But before forgiveness and cleansing come, confession must be real. Through confession we can be released from both the power of sin and from the terrible burden of sin. Like a Christmas shopper trying to carry more packages than he can realistically hold, sometimes we hold on to our sin and bear the consequences of guilt and shame. What we need to do is to lay these burdens down. Through confession we lay these burdens at the cross of Christ, and allow Him to free us from the folly of making sin our companion.
Finally, Where do I need guidance in my life? What decisions are upcoming? What wisdom do I need? What direction should my steps take? These are all questions that we can ask in confidence, for we have the assurance that He will lead us in the way everlasting. What a relief to know that our steps can be ordered by Him, not simply hoping that somehow we will move in the right direction.
There are many scriptures that provide us with a template for prayer. But one of the most helpful is Psalm 139. We will do well to meditate on it; rejoice in the promises it contains, and allow this Psalm to guide us in the questions we bring to God.
The official name for Solution Focused Therapy is Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). But what in the world does "brief" mean? Does it mean that Solution Focused therapists only strive to offer "quick fixes?" Does it mean that the number of visits is automatically limited? Does it mean that clients can't come back if they feel there is still work to be done? None of these answers are correct.
Some forms of therapy are indeed long term because they focus on one problem after another and strive to dig deeper and deeper into the root causes of situations. These approaches may in fact, at times, be helpful, but in these approaches it is sometimes difficult to tell when one has finally reached a resolution to the issue which brought the client the therapy in the first place.
Brief, in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, really doesn't describe a period of time; rather it refers to a perspective. Brief means "not one session more than is clinically necessary." In SFBT the goal is not to chase "therapeutic rabbits;" rather the goal is to help the client make satisfactory progress towards their preferred future. Sometimes this journey is completed in just a few sessions. Sometimes the course of therapy takes longer. But for each client the focus is on helping them achieve the best hopes they had in mind when they sat down with the therapist for the very first time. Compared to other forms of therapy SFBT is often brief; because we listen to the client, determine a destination and begin the journey with that end in mind.
The primary approach to counseling utilized at Living Hope Family Therapy and Counseling is known as Solution Focused Brief Therapy. People often ask how this approach differs from other approaches to therapy. There are many distinguishing features, but the main one is that Solution Focused Brief Therapy focuses on the "other side of the wall." Now what in the world does that mean?
If you think of a wall that divides our present experience and circumstances from our preferred future (what we would like life to really be like), the wall could simply be labeled Our Problems. Most approaches to therapy focus on this wall. They try to solve problems, work around problems, or gain insight into problems. Sometimes they do this by either analyzing a client's present situation or their past in significant detail. The only problem with this is that what we focus on usually grows! In Solution Focused Brief Therapy we take a "mental leap" over the wall. We begin to focus on what life would be like without the problem. Attention is given to what our behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and experiences will be as we begin to live our Preferred Future. Then we begin to explore times in our life when we have experienced a bit of this Preferred Future and we look what steps might be take to help move towards this destination.
Believe me, I am fully aware that sometimes analyzing our problems and our past can be sort of fun. The experience can become something of a psychological treasure hunt. But I have found that the most effective way to help people experience deep change is to invite them to the other side of the wall. It's a whole new world and once you visit it I doubt you will want to go back.
I recently attended a workshop on church growth and the speaker spent considerable time describing the proper use of the glance and the gaze. Now obviously a "glance" is when we take a quick look; we notice certain key things and then move on. A "gaze" occurs when something has truly caught our attention. When we gaze at something we behold it, analyze it, study it. Unfortunately, he told us, many church's get stuck because they gaze at all of their problems and only take an occasional glance at their dreams, hopes, and vision for the future. The result is a problem focused church with little or no awareness of a future plan.
This same principle holds true in our personal life. As Michelle Weiner-Davis has said, "We become experts on what's wrong with us" but have very limited understanding of what it really is that we want for our life; let alone what that life would look like. What we need to do is to develop the discipline of taking an occasional glance at our problems, struggles, and short-comings, but learn to gaze at our vision (what some would call our preferred future).
It's necessary, at times, to consider our failings. Inviting the Lord to guide us as we examine our heart so that we might know what sins to confess or behaviors to abandon is a discipline that brings us healing and wholeness. But to look at our life (our marriage, or job) as through a microscope is truly a strategy for defeat.
What are your Best Hopes? What are your dreams? What does this preferred future really look like? This is where our gaze should be fixed. So I invite you to set the microscope aside and pick up the binoculars. Look into the future and catch a vision of where God really wants to take you. This is where your gaze should be. It is the direction in which our gaze is fixed that our life, most likely, will head.
I'm impressed when I hear my friend David talk about his golf game. Years ago he and I used to play together regularly but more recently my outings have dropped off while his have increased. He plays every week, takes lessons, and is now shooting in the low 80's and high 70's! This is a marked improvement from when we used to play together. I've asked him how he has made such improvement and he told me that and in addition to regular practice and lessons, "if my swing just isn't working I try something different." That makes perfect sense. Why would one continue with the same old swing when the result is not what is wanted?
It is amazing, however, how often we get stuck in a rut and keep trying the same old thing, obviously getting the same old result. Parents often times employ the same old parenting strategy even though their child's attitudes and behavior are unacceptable. Couples often proceed with communication styles that never bring them closer to resolving conflict. Individuals try to come to grips with personal problems using techniques that failed through previous attempts. For each of these the wisdom of my friend make sense: Do Something Different! It is usually when we are willing to experiment and change that we eventually find the solution for the problem we are facing. Are you "stuck in a rut?" My Solution Focused advice for you is to do something different. You might just find your score and your life are getting better.
Life is filled with losses and anytime there is loss there is grief. Losses can include the loss of relationships, the loss of things, the loss of opportunities, the loss of innocence; the list can go on and on. Whatever the loss, grief can (and most likely will) be found. I have recently been reminded of this in powerful way.
Six years ago an orange and white kitten strolled by our house and stopped for a visit. He didn't stay long, but in the days that followed he returned, and returned, and returned. You guessed it; he soon became our cat. My wife named our new friend Crybaby because he meowed so much. But as time went on he really became my cat and I realized that I should have named him Cuddles because he became the most affectionate cat I have ever seen. Crybaby and I became buddies. When I watched TV or tried to read my Bible, he was in my lap. He would come into the bath room in the morning to watch me shave. When I went to sleep he wanted to rest on my tummy. He was my constant companion and very dear friend.
Then one night, while sitting on the couch, I looked over and saw him lying beside a chair. He wasn't moving. Though I called him he didn't come. When I went to find out why I discovered he was dead! What an incredible shock. I took him immediately to the Vet and it was determined that he died of cardiomyopathy - in short, heart failure. I was crushed.
Now obviously the loss of a cat is not the same thing as the loss of human being. But for several days my mind didn't really resonate with that truth. My heart was broken. I cried on and off for several days. It took over a week before I begin to feel "not sick" and even though he's been gone for weeks I still miss him deeply. How can we "heal" from the loss of such a good friend?
I know no magic formula for overcoming grief but I have found several things to be helpful: First, I've tried to be honest with God. In my times of prayer I've told God how much I miss Crybaby and how hurt and confused I've been following his sudden loss. Second, I've had many visits with my wife and close friends. They have listened and with kind words have encouraged and comforted me. Third, to the best of my ability as the days have moved on I've tried to "entrust" my friend to God's care and give thanks for the time we've shared together. I really don't know what happens to animals after they die. I do know that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge and care of our loving Heavenly Father. I believe I can place Crybaby into God's hands.
Sometimes I wish that life was easier. Sometimes I wish that we didn't experience heart ache or pain. But in this life trials, troubles, and heart ache are real. God may not keep us from life hurt, but He is with us in it; and by His grace, He can see us through.
Sometimes the unthinkable happens. We hear sirens; see fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars all heading towards the local school. Tragedy has surely struck! This was the scene witnessed by many in the town of Stillwater Oklahoma last week as a young women walked into one of the elementary schools carrying a backpack, and exclaimed, "I'm here to take all the children to heaven." Obviously, the school went into crisis mode! Office staff were able to quick subdue the intruder; still the extent of what they were dealing with was unknown. Authorities were called and an evacuation of the school was begun. Children were escorted out of the building to a "safe place" while police and fire teams secured the building. Fortunately no explosives were found. The event ended up not to be an act of terrorism but rather the acting out of mentally unstable woman. Still, the children had witnessed an alarming scene. Though the teachers did their best at maintaining order and calm, many of the children knew that something was terribly wrong. "What do we tell the children?", one mother asked. My recommendation is to comfort them with the truth.
Some see the glass half empty; others see the glass half full. For those who know Christ, however, it's difficult to comprehend how we can see our cup as anything but "overflowing."
Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all things, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (TNIV). This is a spiritual principle to be sure. But it is also a great mental health principle as well. When our mind and heart are focused on the many reasons we have for thanksgiving, the impetus for complaining, criticizing, and dwelling on our troubles disappears.
Today, as I launch this web-site, and the Living Hope Family Therapy and Counseling practice, I would like to begin by saying "Thank you" to a number who have encouraged and assisted me in this journey:
First, I would like to express my thanks to my therapist colleagues: Dr. David Croninger, Dr. Mary Ventonis, and therapist Marie Anderson who have encouraged me and given me hours of advice and feedback regarding the practical matters of private practice.
Second, I would like to thank my Administrative Assistant, Michelle Fells, whose technical expertise in computer systems and web-site design have made the production of this site a reality.
Third, I would like to say a word of thanks to the pioneers of marriage and family therapy in Oklahoma. People like Dr. Dale Doty who were practicing and teaching family therapy in Oklahoma before many even knew what it was.
Fourth, I would express my deep thanks for my family: my wife, Kristi, my daughter Beth, my son John, my mother and father, Jean and Owen, and my daughter-in-law and grandchildren - Alicia, Andy, and Sam. These loved ones, by their love, commitment, forgiveness, and grace, have reminded me daily what a family is all about.
Most of all, I thank God for the living hope He has given me through the person of Jesus Christ. I pray I will always have the wisdom to abide in His amazing grace.