"Am I loosing my mind?" That was the question I began to ask myself as I roomed up and down the multi-level parking lot of St John's hospital in Tulsa. Over the past 40 years I have parked in the St John's lot probably 700 times or more. Upon leaving, never once have I had difficulty finding my car. But recently I found myself wandering around the lot for over an hour with my van nowhere in sight. Had it been stolen? Had I come in Camry instead of the Odyssey and just couldn't remember? I was beginning to panic as I carefully searched one floor then another.
I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It was raining (hard to see from the photo) but standing on the corner were two young men advertising a benefit car wash. Who, I thought, would be crazy enough to stand in the rain to advertise a car wash? I drove around the block to see if they had given up, but even though the rain had increased, they were still at it. I thought, "there must be a lesson here." But when they smiled and waved as I took their picture the lesson that had initially come to my mind quickly changed.
Over thirty-five years ago I did research for my Doctor of Ministry dissertation which was titled, "The Effectiveness of Various Spiritual Disciplines in Facilitating the Emotional Healing Process." It was a look at how the personal practice of spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, journaling, meditation, etc.) assist us in the healing of our damaged emotions. In the 70's and 80's very few protestants ever spoke about "spiritual formation" or "spiritual guidance." At that time, I had to rely heavily upon Catholic and Episcopal writers. But today, as evidenced by the book Sacred Rhythms (written by Ruth Haley Barton who studied at Wheaton College) and Celebration of Discipline (written by Richard Foster from Friends University) people from almost all theological backgrounds are interested in this topic.
Suicide, it's a word that we've been hearing far too often lately. Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade are two of the more recent names that have been in the news as a result of this epidemic. In fact the number of suicides in the US are reported to be up by 30% in recent years. Many are now dealing with the aftermath of loved ones or friends who have decided to take their own life. The reasons for suicide are many and that is not really the focus of my thoughts in this blog. Rather, how do we cope with the loss of a loved one who has chosen taken her or her life?
The three most common words that describe those I have known who have faced this situation are: lost, lonely, and longing. Lost is simply the sense of not knowing where to turn or what to do next. (Sort of like being stuck and not being able to move forward.) Lonely is the reality of grief and missing dearly the one who has left us.. (And as you can see from the Blog picture, even our pets experience the reality of grief.) The longing is a desire for understanding; a wish that somehow we could make sense of it all or see clearly what we could have done differently that might have prevented this tragedy. I'm sure other descriptive words could come into play, but these three embrace so much of what goes on in our mind following the suicide of a loved one. There is no easy path to recovery, but if you are currently dealing with the loss of a loved one there are a few things I can encourage:
First, give yourself some time. Healing is not going to come over night. Confusion is not going to go away immediately. It takes a while for guilt to subside. There is no rule that says you have to heal quickly. Allow yourself to simply "be where you are" and take life one day at a time.
Second, steer away from asking, Why? Why questions are a trap and the more you ask them the more you will fall into their snare. The fact of the matter is that most Why questions will not be answered on this side of eternity. We can guess and we can speculate but in reality there is only One who knows the intricacies of the human spirit and mind.
Third, be forward thinking and proactive. Ask yourself, "What can I do now that would most honor the life of the one I have lost?" That may mean reaching out to others. It may mean being an advocate for a particular cause (ie. depression awareness or mental health funding). It may mean making a financial gift in memory of their name. It may mean making positive changes in your own life as tribute to their memory.
Finally, be willing to talk. Talk to family members and talk to friends. Share the wonderful stories that you recall. Be honest about your grief and pain. Tell others about your plans to honor their life. But when it comes to the "dark" feelings, talk to a therapist about your anger and guilt. This is a tremendously better plan than playing the blame game with others.
My prayer is that the suicide rate will sharply decline. The reality is that this tragedy, to some degree, will continue to be with us. If you are now experiencing the wake of such an awful event, my prayers are with you and you can be certain that I, or another therapist, I would be willing to walk with you through this journey.
In light of the recent passing of Billy Graham it is difficult not to share personal thoughts regarding his life and ministry. I had the privilege of hearing him "live" on two occasions: The first was when I was in college and he was the featured spearer at Expo 72 in Dallas Texas. I had only been a Christian for a couple of years and hearing him speak to 40,000+ college students in the Cotton Bowl was an incredible experience. The second time I heard him was in Oklahoma City, some 25 years after the Expo event, at what many thought may be his last public rally. It wasn't, but the experience of hearing him twice, with a 25 year span between events, brought home for me the challenge of perseverance and faithfulness. Billy Graham's message and life rang true across the years.
Though I didn't know it when I first heard him, I now realize that Billy Graham was a solution focused preacher. He proclaimed that we do not have to be bound by our old life of sin but that we can find a whole new life and future through faith in Jesus Christ. In a day when segregation was a way of life, Billy insisted on a new future at his events; one where black and white could sit together and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Billy, no doubt, wanted us to leave the old ways behind and focus our hearts on the new kingdom Christ would one day bring. Thank God for his life, his example, and his legacy. I can say, along with countless others, that his life and message have been a wonderful part of my journey.
Recently my son sent me a picture of a list that had been prepared by my 7 year old grandson (Andy). Obviously he had seen his dad organizing his day by making and working through his list, so Andy decided to give it a try. He included most of the necessities: eating, playing, working, even "spying on Sam" (his brother). I'm not sure how this all worked for him but at least he was willing to give it a try.
Lists can be a practical way to organize the day. They help us to establish priorities. They help us organize a logical sequence of events. As we "check things off" they help us to realize that we are actually getting some things done. They can also help us at times, realize that some things simply don't need to be done; we can scratch them from our list.
Do you struggle with disorganization or simply feeling overwhelmed by all of the tasks that are before you? One simple solution is to make a list. It works for many (including myself), and maybe it will be a solution for you!
The prophet Isaiah announces the coming of God's son into the world with these words: "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. He will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end." What a wonderful Solution-Focused message this is for a hurting and longing world. The prophet tells us that Christ will be born and for us he will be a...
Wonderful Counselor - He is one whose teachings we should heed because he will tell us lovingly and truthfully how to find healing and wholeness in every area of our life.
Mighty God - He is not just one who can give advice, he is one who is willing to get involved in the nitty gritty of our lives> He is one who has the power to effect true and lasting change.
Everlasting Father - He always cares. He is always there. Nothing will be able to separate us from his great love.
Prince of Peace - In times of turmoil and stress he is the one who can calm the troubled waters of our soul. "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end." His peace will grow within us.
I wish all of my readers a blessed and merry Christmas, and I pray that the promise of the prophet will be the reality of your heart this Christmas day.
If you start at a point and walk 50 miles in one direction, obviously you will end up at another specific point. But if you start at the same beginning point and alter your direction even by one degree, 50 miles later you will be in an entirely different place. The lesson: small changes in direction over time take us to an entirely different ending.
Many people, especially as we begin a new year, plan to make huge changes in their life. Some of these include: a radically altered diet, an aggressive exercise program, accomplishing monumental new tasks, and possibly even the transformation of one's personality. The problem is, striving for big changes seldom works. But small changes, which are realistic and sustainable, can in time make a huge difference in the quality of our life.
For 2018, what small changes can you make in: your attitude, your spiritual disciplines, your diet, your financial management, your exercise routine? A basic principle of Solution Focused Therapy is that small changes lead to big changes. So as you live into 2018 and consider the "life improvements" you want to take on; Think Small! By the end of the year you may be surprised at where life has taken you.
Recently a therapist friend of mine used a term that caught my attention; she told me that one thing that was now helping her was the practice of "pre-emptive prayers." I had never heard those two words used together like that before and I quickly asked her what she meant. She told me that usually she prays about things as they are happening to her. There is a conflict in her family and she prays about that. A friend becomes ill and she prays about that. She is having a day when she is feeling anxious and she prays about that. But, she told me, "I'm now spending more time praying "ahead" of anticipated events." As the school year was approaching she prayed that her daughter would like her teachers, make new friends, and be excited with her classes. As the Christmas season was approaching she begin praying for God to be lord of her schedule and time. For her upcoming dentist appointment, which usually makes her very anxious, she prayed that God would give her peace and that His presence would be felt during her appointment. "In other words," she said, "I now pray a pre-emptive prayer for God's blessings on situations I know are coming." What a difference, she said, this has made on her overall attitude and sense of peace.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Jonah 2:1, "Then Jonah prayed." He finally prayed after he had run from God, been tossed over board and thrown in the sea, and was swallowed by a large fish. Yes, I guess it was time for Jonah to pray. But why did he not pray before all of this trouble came. At the first request from God to go to Nineveh, the Bible tells us that Jonah ran away from the Lord. What a difference it would have made if he had only run to the Lord in prayer.
I too tend to pray as situations arise. But I'm now determined to make "pre-emptive" prayer a more essential part of my life. I'm sure it will make a difference. Perhaps it will make a difference in your life as well.
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!
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.