Sustainable Self-Care Ideas to Improve Your Wellbeing

Over the past few years, it has become increasingly trendy to talk about self-care. This is especially true for people whose work or lifestyle puts them in positions where it is hard to take time for themselves, whether because they work long, exhausting hours, or because they are home with children all day and can’t seem to get a meaningful break. Also, let’s be honest with our current times. COVID-19 has added additional stressors on top of everything else in our everyday lives.

But for many, the understanding of self-care doesn’t go too much further than taking time for yourself, whether by going out for a cup of coffee alone, meeting up with friends, or being available for a long luxurious soak in the bathtub.

However, I would suggest that self-care goes deeper than making sure that you can take those 10-15 minutes (or more) for yourself every day, as one can very quickly go from that relaxed feeling in one moment, back to feeling stressed and under pressure from the next triggering event.

This suggests that you are over-extending yourself and what you perceive to be a state of relaxation is actually a state of constant stress. This state of stress that you perceive to be relaxed is just a lower level of stress compared to the previous overwhelming event—which is why we are easily stressed out by any small event that is stressful. Our cup is already filled to the rim.

Self-care, when we are stressed, keeps our cups from overfilling. But, self-care when we no longer feel as overwhelmed will help lower your cup even more so that when stressful life events happen, you can handle them with more patience, grace, understanding, and love.

Self-Care Ideas to Maintain Overall Health

Self-care needs to make some sort of effort to meet your deeper needs if it is to be meaningful and sustainable. It needs to look at all the areas of your life, your physical needs, like rest and taking care of your physical health, as well as your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Focus on your physical health

One of the first steps in self-care is recognizing that you are responsible for taking care of your physical health. As an adult, no one is going to remind you that you need to eat or to get enough sleep. So, you need to make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy and nutritious meals, and getting some form of daily exercise, such as going for a walk or cycle around the block.

All these things are important if we want our bodies to be operating at peak capacity. We need to make sure to set ourselves up for success by giving ourselves the fuel we need to feel good and manage our day-to-day responsibilities, and a healthy diet, rest, and movement all contribute to our general good health and wellbeing. Exercise is also known to help counteract feelings of stress by producing endorphins, so it has a double benefit.

Endorphins are chemicals produced naturally by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress. These are often also called the “feel good” chemicals. If your body is not producing enough endorphins you might experience depression, anxiety, or moodiness. This is why your physical health plays an important role in your mental and emotional well-being.

Know yourself

The next step in self-care is to do a little self-reflection. Take some time to look at your life and think about how the various aspects of it affect you and your wellbeing. Understand your capacity and limitations, so that you can know more easily when to say “no” to taking on too much.

Recognize what energizes you and what depletes you so that you can know what to say “yes” to and how to best recharge. Think about what kinds of things add significant stress so that, if possible, you can remember to practice your coping skills and make plans to manage the stress.

Prioritize what relaxes you, make time in your schedule to unwind, and allow yourself to show love to yourself. For some people, a warm bath with music or a book every day is relaxing. For others, cooking, dancing, or drawing are relaxing activities.

Think about what motivates you, so that you can commit yourself to what is important and follow through. The better you know yourself, the better you will be able to anticipate stresses and work to mitigate them, and the better you will be able to identify what is important to you and be able to plan to meet your needs.

Only by taking the time to think about what works and what doesn’t work in your life can you make better decisions about how to use your limited resources of time and energy and how to be your best self.

There’s a saying about self-care being about choosing to create a life that you don’t regularly feel the need to escape from. So, ask the tough questions about your life, career, and habits, and whether these things are draining you or fulfilling you. And then make changes accordingly.

Establish boundaries

Once you have taken the time to figure out what is most important to you, and what you are best capable of handling, then you can begin to establish healthy boundaries for yourself. These will look different to different people and in different situations.

You may find you need a certain amount of time alone to refresh yourself, and once you’ve decided that this is a priority in your self-care you can determine where to take this time and set up boundaries to protect it. Your boundaries may look like saying “no” to certain commitments, or to saying “no” beyond a certain number of social hangouts. But there will be times where you need to establish a limit, and then enforce it.

Yes, life is not perfect, and things will come up that may require the relaxing of a boundary; however, the general trend of protecting your time and the things that are important to you should become a habit that you don’t feel guilty about. Boundaries will help you to prioritize what is important, and then you can let the less important things slide a little if necessary.

Focus on your mental and emotional health

Once you have taken care of your physical needs and taken the time to establish boundaries to protect what is important to you, you can focus on investing in things that will build you up mentally and emotionally. For some, this may look like a change in their job to find something more fulfilling or making better use of their gifts and interests.

But momentous changes like this are not always options for everyone and looking after your mental health may mean investing in a hobby or other activity that challenges you and gives you a feeling of fulfillment. This might include getting involved in community service or taking a class in something that interests you, whether art or economics.

For some, it might mean being available to regularly spend time reading an enjoyable book. However, it is important to be available for things that challenge you positively and give you a sense of progress and growth.

Invest in friendships that build you up

While you may have hundreds of friends on social media, it is important to recognize the friendships that you have in real life. One rarely has the time to invest meaningfully in many friendships in real life, but when you have a solid friendship that uplifts you and builds you up, take the time to invest in that person.

We are made for relationships and do not function well in isolation, and that time with a friend can be life giving, especially when you are going through a challenging time. So don’t forget to prioritize time and energy for investing in the people that are close to you.

Focus on your faith

For many people, the spiritual aspect of life is particularly important. This is a part of life that shouldn’t be left as the last priority. It should be our first priority. For a Christian, God is more than a distant idea, but a close comfort and help in times of trouble.

If your faith is important to you then you will not find fulfillment in just going through the worldly motions but will need to seek a relationship with God by reading His living Word daily, praying without ceasing, and following His commandments.

It will also be important to fellowship with people who share your faith, whether only for the weekly gathering or more frequently. Pay close attention to the people you gather with. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Invest in your faith community and you will find yourself spiritually fulfilled. If your spiritual life is not in alignment with God, it gives license to Satan to attack you in those areas that are not in alignment. Jesus gave us “The Great Commission” as our purpose on earth. Neglecting what Jesus commands us to do can be physically felt as an ache or need that we cannot satisfy in any other way.

This is the Holy Spirit convicting us, “and He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). When you are in alignment with God’s Word, you will feel peace in your Spirit and no longer be at war with your flesh.

Make time to fill your cup

All these things may feel like a lot that needs to be thought through and prioritized, but at the end of the day, we are complex people with needs across all parts of life. If any of these needs – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – are not being met, then we will struggle to feel satisfaction and contentment where we are.

But if you make good choices when it comes to how you fuel your body, what you prioritize, and how you guard what is important to you, you will find yourself increasingly fulfilled by the life you are building. And while you are investing in all these things, you mustn’t forget to allocate time to rest. “Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man’”(Mark 2:28).

Give yourself time to unwind and do the things that fill your cup, whether that is spending time in nature, socializing with good friends, or relaxing with a book, or even taking a long candlelit bubble bath. When the rest of your life is well balanced, these moments of rest will easily refresh and revive you and help you feel prepared to face the next challenge that comes your way.

Photos:
“Wake up and Glow”, Courtesy of Ellieelien, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Self Love”, Courtesy of Content Pixie, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman Making Heart”, Courtesy of Jackson David, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “White Mug on Chair Arm”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

How to Forgive Someone: Biblical Guidance on Forgiveness

Have you ever been asked to do something that seemed impossible? How did you respond to the challenge? Sometimes in life, we face situations that take us to our limits and beyond. The sort of people we are – our character – shows in those moments. Though we may fail in the attempt, being willing to give something a go has great value.

If we are familiar with what the Bible says about living a life that is rooted in love for God and neighbor, then we know how challenging living such a life can be. We don’t always meet our self-expectations, and that’s to say nothing of the high standard to which God holds his people.

Nonetheless, we try to live faithfully, to be just and loving people through the power of the Holy Spirit. We may not get it right, but we try; and when we fail, we dust ourselves off ask the Lord for His grace and mercy and try again. It matters that we keep going despite the challenges and setbacks. The life of faith as a disciple of Jesus means staying in alignment with the Word of God.

One area that most of us find challenging is forgiving others. When people wrong us, we may find ourselves inclined toward wanting to see them pay for what they did. In other instances, we may not wish them harm, and many times we certainly want nothing more to do with them.

The sins we and others commit are many, varied, and complex in the kinds of effects and traumas they produce. In the Bible there are three categories of sins mentioned: sin, transgressions, and iniquities. Forgiving others is thus not always a simple matter, and it may feel like we are betraying ourselves and our experiences to forgive someone who has wronged us.

What is written below is in no way intended to guilt us into forgiving someone or to do something we aren’t ready to do. Forgiveness is ultimately a choice we must make to let go of our anger and desire for revenge and forgive as our Father forgave us.

Forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving, not the person receiving the forgiveness. That’s not a choice anyone can make for another person, but we must reflect on the biblical teaching about God’s will for us to live free of resentment and vengeance.

After all, holding onto unforgiveness, according to some research studies, negatively affects our physical and mental health by making us more vulnerable to stress, heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.

We too are forgiven

One of the realities with which we are regularly confronted in the Bible is that we all need God’s forgiveness. The word “sin” doesn’t roll off our tongues easily, but essentially what that word conveys is the notion that we are morally bankrupt. We miss the mark in a variety of ways, whether it’s by not doing what we’re meant to do, or by doing the things we aren’t supposed to. We sin because we seek after fleshly gratifications.

Our attitudes towards other people may be less than generous; we might treat others with more respect because they are like us in one way or the other. We show favoritism or partiality; at other times we are unwilling to consider the feelings of others. In our thoughts, feelings, and actions, none of us is perfect and lives the way God wants us to. For this and more, God has forgiven us.

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.Ephesians 2:1-10

This is a powerful message that shows how God has bestowed on us his undeserved favor. The first few verses of that passage read, “Though we were disobedient, God forgave. us and gave us new life.

This forgiveness isn’t a thing of the past. We continue to sin, and God continues to forgive us – “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” –1 John 1:8-9

God meets us in our weakness and forgives us. Even as we consider how others may have wronged us, we must also consider how we have wronged God and others, and yet we are forgiven.

We forgive others as we are forgiven

Forgiving others is likely one of the hardest things about the Christian life. We mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that forgiveness means that you aren’t taking a person’s actions seriously. On the contrary, because we understand that God’s forgiveness came to us through Jesus and the sacrifice he made on our behalf, we know that forgiveness is serious business.

It’s so serious in fact that we are reminded that if we understand just what it is God has done in forgiving us, we will extend that forgiveness to others. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Matthew 6 Jesus teaches his followers to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” and then he adds this difficult word – “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. The gift we have received from God, we are to pass along to others; if we have understood God’s gift to us, that is.

Additionally, forgiving another person is more about us than it is about them. Have you ever noticed how stressful it is to be around someone you have something against? You either try to avoid them, or you grit your teeth when they’re speaking all the while thinking less-than-healthy thoughts.

Forgiveness allows us to let go of our toxic emotions such as hatred towards the other person. We reclaim our thoughts and don’t allow them to live “rent-free” in our hearts and minds because of the negative emotions we bear toward them. When we forgive them, we can move on with our lives, free of resentment.

We forgive often

The things that people do that require forgiveness may vary, but the act of forgiveness, the choice of letting go of the desire to pay back remains a tough one. It often doesn’t happen overnight; we must sometimes choose to forgive daily. If you live with the person, or if the things the person does occur often, that makes the act of forgiveness a daily choice.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples once asked Jesus the question “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus responded, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22). Peter’s question is all too relatable. It would be nice to have an upper limit when it comes to forgiveness, beyond which we can hold onto our resentment with divine approval. Jesus scuppers that hope. We forgive as often as we must.

Of course, we must understand that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that no natural consequences will flow from their actions. If a crime has been committed, forgiveness doesn’t mean the law can’t take its natural course. If a person repeatedly breaks their word to you, forgiving them doesn’t mean you are required to give them anything more than that forgiveness.

We can do all things

Forgiveness is hard. But in this, as in other areas of life, God has not left us to our own devices and to figure it out on our own. We “can do all things through him who gives [us] strength” as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13. God gives us strength to do the impossible – to forgive those who sin against us and to trust in God’s good judgment, leaving vengeance to God alone (Romans 12).

For the sake of our mental, physical, and spiritual health, forgiving others is a healthy practice that is tough in the doing, but worth it in the end. Ephesians 4:26-27 states, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

Prayer for forgiveness

This prayer was written by Sue Fernandez in her book, Deliverance for Christians: Claiming Your Freedom In Christ.

“Father, in Jesus’ name, I ask that You take back the ground that was given to the enemy when (Name of Person)(List Specific Incidents). I ask that You break every stronghold from my soul. And as an act of my will, I choose to forgive (Name of Person) and I ask that You give me Your Grace to do so, from the bottom of my heart. I renounce unforgiveness. I renounce bitterness, and I ask that You remove every root of bitterness.

“If anyone has been defiled by my bitterness, I ask that You show me who that is and what I need to do. I ask that you bind the enemy from (Name of Person); take off all the veils of the enemy: and open his eyes, ears, heart, and soul to the truth of God. I also ask that You bring someone to him who can lead him to salvation. I release (Name of Person) now to You, Lord, for You to work in his heart, soul, and life, as You will.”

Photos:
“Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Cathy Mu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Purple White Flowers”, Courtesy of Vlad Zaytsev, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hug”, Courtesy of Igor Erico, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pink Flowers”, Courtesy of Hannah Olinger, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Finding Hope in the Midst of Darkness

Depression as a Christian seems contradictory since the Bible promises us peace and joy. Peace and joy are very different feelings when compared to a depressed mood. We can have peace in our hearts about the future and our current situation. We can have the joy of the Lord through our salvation. However, our mood may tell us that we are sad even though there is no identifiable reason to be sad.

This is where I like to implement distractions. I may know in my mind that there is nothing to be sad about. I may have a wonderful life, a great spouse, successful children who are walking with the Lord, but I still don’t feel good, and I lack the desire to participate in things I once found interesting. The enemy tries to discourage a person and pressure them to feel guilty about these feelings. Naturally, we tend to look inward for the reason.

The goal is to immediately use Scripture to fight those automatic negative thoughts (fiery darts) that the enemy shoots into our minds. Find certain Scriptures that speak to you in the specific area in which you are struggling. Write these down on a small piece of paper to carry with you until you memorize them.

Do not allow these darts to enter your long-term memory. Short-term memory is anything under thirty seconds. If you rehearse something, a telephone number, a name, a time, or a phrase using certain rehearsal techniques they will convert to long-term memory. The trick here is to get to those fiery darts immediately with Scripture you have previously memorized.

Repeat God’s word to yourself and get his promises into your long-term memory. Carry your Bible around with you wherever you go. Put it in your purse, carry a small Gideon’s Bible in your back pocket so you can get used to using your sword. Keep seeking, keep knocking. Don’t grow weary.

Another reason we may continue to be affected by feelings of sadness is that we may have conditioned ourselves to be in this state. People find it comfortable to sit in darkness, wallowing in self-defeating thoughts. Though it’s not necessarily a desire to feel depressed, we may experience a physiological response (physical response throughout the body) to a depressed mood.

When we feel tired, we prefer to lay in bed to get some additional sleep. We feel hungry so we find something to nourish our bodies. Working through depression feels unnatural because our emotions or our bodies may prompt us to do things that will keep us remaining depressed:

  • Loss of interest
  • Excessive sleep
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive Guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death

Depression has many faces and many different presentations, and the sufferer may experience a variety of symptoms. As Christians, we may think that the Lord would relieve us from these feelings if we were in His good graces. This is false. There are instances where we may be experiencing guilt, shame, sad mood, and difficulty sleeping due to unconfessed sin. If we continue to live in a specific sin, the Holy Spirit will convict us and prompt us in this way.

Do not mistake this for condemnation, however. Christ sent his Holy Spirit to us to encourage us and to convict us of sin. Conviction is meant to prompt us to repent, not to condemn us. The Bible says that His goodness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Out of love, we turn back to Christ knowing that his plans for our lives are far better than our own.

The enemy has effective methods of making us feel as though we will never measure up, leading us to feel beaten down by the world and our sin. Don’t grow weary of doing good, “At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9).”

A thorn is a struggle or an ailment that the Lord has not freed us from so that He may be glorified through us. This is not to be confused with a stronghold. A stronghold stems from a certain sin we continuously fall into (i.e., binge-eating, sexual sin, continuous anger outbursts, slander/gossip, pride, lying, or substance use.)

Jacob experienced a thorn following his wrestling with God. Paul had a thorn that he was forced to live with, the nature of which the Bible does not reveal (however, many Biblical scholars think it may have had something to do with his eyes). A thorn may also be the loss of a child, the death of a spouse at a young age, a physical ailment, cancer, and even mental illness. The propensity to experience depression may also be a thorn.

It may keep us clinging to Jesus, running back to Him for continual support because we realize that during periods of intense depression, He is the only way we can make it through the day. Ultimately, Jesus wants us to be close to Him. He wants us to spend time in His word and rely on Him.

This does not mean that the Lord is devious and crafty, but He permits these ailments so that we will cling to Him. We live in a fallen world and as fallen creatures we do not fully understand His methods. We may not know why He would allow a young child to die prematurely, but we trust in His essential goodness and love. We constantly fight a spiritual battle with an enemy who is much smarter than we are, so we reach to Jesus to guide and strengthen us moment by moment during times of depression.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:17-18

One biblical truth you can hold fast to is that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Don’t lose faith or become discouraged when the storm rages between your ears. Cling to the hope that though you may be sitting in darkness, the Lord is your light (Micah 7:7b).

If you are in grip of mental health difficulties such as these depressive symptoms and would like to speak with someone to help identify the problem in a more clear and identifiable way, please reach out to a counselor for guidance and encouragement. We have a team of mental health professionals that will provide a hand to help you walk through your spiritual wilderness. You don’t have to go through this alone.

Photos:
“A Walk in the Woods”, Courtesy of Geran de Klerk, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Skeleton Keys on Book”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chains”, Courtesy of Zulmaury Saavedra, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Victory!”, Courtesy of Svyatoslav Romanov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Opening New Doors: Developing Interpersonal Communication Skills

Interpersonal communication skills, when strengthened, can help you express your feelings clearly and precisely. You can use these lifelong skills to move further up the career ladder, express yourself to your spouse or children, make new friends, and network with people who can help your cause.

The good news is that most people are not born with good communication skills. It’s a skill you can begin mastering today to effectively and assertively convey what you mean.

The Different Types of Communication

There are several different types of communication, but they all boil down to verbal, nonverbal (actions), written, and visual. These skills also referred to as people skills, can take you far.

Unfortunately, some people find it difficult to communicate with people and allow others to control and manipulate them. By learning it’s okay to speak up (and how to do so constructively), you can develop self-confidence.

The types of communication are:

Verbal – Verbal communication uses spoken language to convey meaning to others.

Nonverbal (actions) – Nonverbal communication includes nodding, shaking your head, and other actions such as crossing your arms over your chest (body language), facial expressions, or slamming doors when angry.

Written – Written communication includes books, letters, emails, newspapers, text messages, and other printed or digital words.

Visual – Visual communication concentrates on the things we can see and understand as an outlet in expressing feelings and thoughts. This includes artwork, graphs, charts, drawings, and pictures.

Some people learn better when several of these types of communication are combined. For example, you might be more comfortable learning new information using written and visual materials. And it might be easier for you to express your thoughts of very detailed, personal matters through written material (a journal) rather than talking (verbal communication) with someone.

Another type of communication frequently forgotten, but possibly the most important skill is active listening. Active listening is trying to not only hear the person but to understand them. This means not losing your focus to distractions or thinking about how you are going to respond to their comments. While active listening, you nod or shake your head, speak when necessary, and show empathy.

Developing Interpersonal Communication Skills

Perhaps you do well with one or two public communication skills but are sorely lacking in the others. You can learn how to develop good communication skills with a little practice. You can begin by implementing a few of the suggestions listed below.

If you are interested in learning more about how to strengthen your communication skills, you can find printed books and eBooks on the subject as well as courses that cover interpersonal and public communication.

How to Develop Active Listening Skills

Developing the ability to actively listen to someone requires you to focus solely on the person speaking. If the person is sharing an emotional story with you, be sure to respond as necessary with kindness and empathy. This is not the time to judge the person in front of you, but to try to understand what they are going through or the instructions they are giving you.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up on our responses to the other person that we simply stop actively listening. Take your time in your response if you need to. You want the other person to feel important and heard.

How to Develop Verbal Communication Skills

To truly improve your verbal skills, you should expose yourself to a wide range of vocabulary. Read books (both printed and eBooks) in various genres as well as nonfiction. Consider joining a book club to discuss insights on a book to improve critical thinking skills or join a debate team to pick up how to form an argumentative opinion.

Speak precisely and with confidence. It is not necessary to bog down a conversation with five-syllable words as most people will come away from the exchange either intimidated or bored.

If you are nervous about meeting a new acquaintance, approach the person with a kind smile, compliment them, and ask questions. People love to talk about themselves and what is important to them. Start with asking about their family, career, hobbies and interests, and what they want to do with their life. As people confide, they will begin to trust you because you care to know about them.

How to Develop Nonverbal Communication Skills

Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly giving away your thoughts and feelings with body language and facial expressions. For example, crossing your arms over your chest while talking to someone is considered a defensive move for protection. Do you feel threatened by what they are saying? Do you find their comments hurtful?

Strive to be mindful of your facial expressions and posture when you are talking to someone. Smiling and maintaining a relaxed and open posture will translate to others that you are a warm and friendly person with whom they can spend time conversing.

How to Develop Written Communication Skills

The written word surrounds us daily with billboards, newspapers, chat messages, text messages, and emails. How many emails and texts do you send daily? It is important to improve your writing skills, so you convey the correct meaning and induce the appropriate response.

People today have shorter attention spans due to the constant barrage of distractions. Keep your sentences short and cut out any flowery words. Make sure you reread your material for clarity and accuracy. If writing seems awkward to you, try journaling. The act of recording your thoughts and emotions is simply the practice of communicating with yourself.

How to Develop Visual Communication Skills

You can use visual images to communicate with others. Most people remember pictures and videos even if they don’t remember the words they read. You can use visuals to help you remember important things.

For example, a student might draw a diagram, breaking down a difficult topic for a class. Or, a mother might create a chores graph for her children to use to make the daily tasks fun.

If you want to express your beliefs and thoughts to others using social media, you can create videos or pictures. You might find it easier to record and edit a video of you talking than speaking in-person to a group of people.

Social Communication Disorder

A child who cannot seem to express himself with the appropriate verbal and nonverbal cues may be tested by their pediatrician for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). If autism is ruled out, the physician may diagnose the child with Social Communication Disorder (SCD).

Children demonstrating signs of SCD may have trouble responding appropriately to others, misjudging when to take their turn speaking, expressing their feelings verbally, and using language to ask questions and hold conversations.

Children with Social Communication Disorder may also have another mental health condition that requires therapy. Speak with your child’s pediatrician about adding the professional services of a speech-language pathologist, either at school or home. Some states provide programs, such as “Birth to 3,” to help babies and toddlers to overcome speech disorders and delays.

There are things you can do to help your child improve his communication skills. Make reading a priority in your home. Not only will your child enlarge his vocabulary, but he will learn to think critically and form opinions.

When possible, combine written and visual materials to teach your child about important topics. Many children are visual learners and can pick up a subject quicker with images.

Arrange for your child to spend time with other children and help him get started with conversations by asking questions. Once he sees that he has common interests as the other children, it may be easier for him to hold the conversation.

One Final Word

Communication skills are vital in every area of life. Whether you speak to a room full of peers, work behind a desk answering phones and sending emails, or need to assert your self-worth, mastering the skills to effectively communicate will serve you for the rest of your life. It’s a skill that no one can take from you.

Photos:
“Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Phone Call”, Courtesy of Kevin Laminto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chatting”, Courtesy of Charles Deluvio, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Happy”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Unforgiveness and Its Effect on Our Lives

The idea of dishing out our own brand of justice is a tale as old as time, and it finds expression in comic books, movies, books, and in our lives. Some of our favorite pop culture heroes are the vigilantes who serve justice outside the lines of the law.

The Guy Ritchie-directed movie Snatch, starring Brad Pitt and Jason Statham among others, put an interesting definition of the word “nemesis” in the mouth of one of its foul-mouthed characters, a gangster named Bricktop. Bricktop, in one of his many memorable pieces of dialogue, said something like this: “Do you know what nemesis means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by . . . me.”

When someone wounds or offends us or the people we love, it is natural for us to want to retaliate, to inflict retribution. Sometimes, we feel like fixing things ourselves will be the best and quickest way to see justice done. Bricktop, for his part, thought himself to be a proper agent of righteous retribution, even though under the circumstances he was far from being righteous.

Set that next to the notion of forgiveness, which doesn’t often sit well with us, especially when we’re deep in our feelings about a situation. Forgive that person who just insulted me, my faith, or my people? Forgive that person who just rudely cut me off in traffic and then had the gall to insult me and my driving?

It’s often difficult enough to forgive our loved ones, but to forgive those we would call our enemies? That seems like a bridge too far. In those moments, it seems to make more sense to follow the way of Bricktop than it does to follow the way of Jesus.

What unforgiveness does to us

Every action we undertake has an impact on our lives. On the other side of that is the reality that whatever our hearts are full of will emerge out of our mouths and into our lives, showing us what’s going on inside of us.

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in them, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in them.Matthew 12:34-35

Forgiving people is hard. We are concerned, and rightly so, that they will hurt us again, that forgiving them will seem like condoning their behavior, or that forgiving them will allow them to keep doing what they did. It is understandable that faced with the choice between offering forgiveness and withholding it, we often withhold it and live in a state of unforgiveness.

What, though, is the effect of unforgiveness on our lives?

It creates a barrier between us and God

In our own lives, we make many, many mistakes. We are repeat offenders in God’s books, and we find ourselves often at the throne of grace asking God for forgiveness. In the prayer he taught his followers, Jesus taught them to ask God for forgiveness even as they pray for daily bread (Matthew 6:9-15).

If we know ourselves well and are honest, we should acknowledge that we need forgiveness from God and other people often. God is gracious and freely forgives us, casting our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west.

The challenging part for us is that God asks us to extend forgiveness to others in the same way that he forgives us. What we have received, we are to pass on and bless others with.

So, that prayer for forgiveness that Jesus taught his followers goes, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…” and he closes off the conversation by saying, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:11-12, 14-15).

When we withhold forgiveness from other people and live in a state of unforgiveness, it brings a challenge to our relationship with God. As one interpretation of these verses puts it, “In prayer, there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part”.

We exist in a complex web of relationships. God cares about what happens between us and our neighbors, and we can’t isolate or insulate our relationship with them from our relationship with God. The new life God gives us enables us to live in harmony with others and empowers us to do the impossible, like forgiving people.

It’s bad for your health

Forgiveness is connected to massive health benefits. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of a heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.”

“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in many changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response.

Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

Living in unforgiveness and holding on to negative feelings about other people is bad for your health.

It robs us of the freedom God intends

One of the gifts that God has given people in Jesus is freedom. That freedom takes shape in different ways, but one of the surprising ways is that we are freed from our old selves, which were prone to feelings such as “bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander” (Ephesians 4:31). These are part of the old way of life.

That doesn’t mean that no situation will arise where we feel those things. Living out the life of God in us means that we give less and less room to those negative emotions, and learn more and more to “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven [us]” (Ephesians 4:32).

Feeling angry toward someone as a result of unforgiveness can be so draining. As we’ve already pointed out, unforgiveness includes a heavy physical burden to carrying those emotions all day. Feeling anger and resentment toward other people also just wears down your soul and robs you of your joy. Have you ever noticed what happens when you’re in a good mood, and a person you have something against walks in the room?

All your energy gets taken away from the happiness you were feeling and is redirected toward avoiding that person’s gaze or just wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible. That’s a burden. Rather than carry that, God’s people can be sure that God will take up our cause and do what is right at the right time, so we don’t have to burden ourselves with holding onto our anger and wanting revenge (Romans 12:14-21).

It affects relationships and causes us to miss what God is doing

The story of the lost son in Luke 15 is a remarkable one about people finding a way back from a very dark place. The younger son in the story is wayward, and he squanders the family wealth on alcohol, parties, and fast living. He brings shame to his father and the family. The older son stayed home all the while, faithfully working the fields.

When the younger brother ran out of money and lost his friends, he thought to come home and restore some semblance of a relationship with his father. The wayward younger brother in the story stood for the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was welcoming and eating with.

The older brother, standing for the religious leaders, angrily stood far off from the wayward brother, and would not extend forgiveness, welcome, or rejoice when the generous father had welcomed the wayward son home.

Was the wayward son wrong in what he had done? Yes, very much so. Is it natural and normal to feel offended, much like the older brother did in these circumstances? Yes. But in that story, Jesus was trying to show that the joy of welcoming back a wayward brother who has repented ought to overtake our offense at what they did.

The Pharisees were unwilling to welcome the tax collectors and sinners even when God in Jesus was welcoming them into the Kingdom. Choosing to forgive isn’t easy, but living in unforgiveness made them, and it can make us, miss out on what God is doing.

Photos:
“Love At All Costs”, Courtesy of Gus Moretta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Let It Go”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Please Forgive Me”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage? 6 Truths from God’s Word

Have you ever wondered, “What does the Bible say about marriage?” If so, this article is for you. In the beginning, when the world was young and harmony reigned, God blessed the first marriage, between Adam and Eve. After Adam was created, there was nothing in the creation like him, and God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”. God created and brought Eve to Adam. Created in God’s image and Adam’s equal, Eve was “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” as Adam put it.

Adam and Eve had one another in this brave new world – someone who was an equal but different and complementary. Since people are made in God’s image, it makes sense that Adam and Eve had an innate desire for relationship and that it wouldn’t be good for either of them to be alone. As descendants of Adam and Eve, all of us are the result of this first marriage.

Cut to the 21st century, where many struggle with the relevance of the institution of marriage. Despite our difficulties with marriage, there is a beauty to the way marriage brings two lives together and the two become one flesh, one new family unit when they leave their parents and cleave to one another (Genesis 2:24).

This “leaving and cleaving” creates a committed space of unashamed intimacy within which a man and woman build a life together. What can we continue to learn from the Bible about marriage?

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?

It is good

One of the things the Bible says about marriage is that it is good. The book of ancient wisdom called Proverbs puts it this way: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Presumably, she who finds a husband also finds what is good.

Again, this makes sense in light of human nature and our inclination toward being in relationship with others, including this most intimate of human relationships. The marriage relationship is a life-long commitment (Romans 7:2). All things being equal, weddings are generally a time of celebration.

In some liturgies, the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) where Jesus turned water into wine is mentioned as another divine endorsement of marriage. If God was behind marriage when the world was perfect and the specter of arguments and divorce was absent, the wedding at Cana shows us God still endorsing marriage even in our broken world. It is good, and it is worth celebrating.

It is a mystery

Of all the things one could say about marriage, one apt description is that it is a mystery. It’s a mystery in a least two ways. First, despite our culture’s fractious relationship with marriage, the vast majority of people are still drawn towards making the public and lifelong commitment that is marriage.

Second, and more important, reflecting on marriage while writing to Christians in the city of Ephesus, the apostle Paul brings up what was said in Genesis 2 and reminds these believers that when two people get married, something monumental takes place – the two become one flesh.

But then he says that human marriage is an echo of the relationship that Jesus has with his church. This is a “profound mystery”, he says (Ephesians 5:32). It’s a bit mind-bending, but human marriage is patterned after and is an echo of the relationship between Christ and his people. Getting married draws you inadvertently into something beyond yourself, something timeless and cosmic – profound mystery indeed.

It isn’t for everyone

Even though marriage is a good gift, it isn’t for everyone. There are some for whom the celibate life is their calling. Both Jesus and Paul make this point. Some people have made the choice to remain single “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus continues, saying, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12).

In other words, some people may decide to stay single to maintain an unswerving focus on the kingdom. Paul puts it this way:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…if you do marry, you have not sinned… I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.1 Corinthians 7:17, 28, 32

In other words, if you want to get married, that’s great, but marriage comes with certain responsibilities or anxieties, and you must be aware of that. If you want to stay single, that’s also great. The single life enables a certain kind of unbroken focus on the kingdom. In other words, the calling toward either marriage or singleness is morally neutral; each life comes with its own joys and burdens.

It’s not perfect

Marriage is not perfect because the people in it aren’t perfect. The reality is that people no longer get married in the blissful context of Genesis 1 and 2. Married life is now way more complicated than that. Coming after Adam and Eve and their rebellion, all marriage now happens in the context and shadow of Genesis 3.

Adam went from composing poetry for Eve, his beloved wife, saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) to blaming her for his disobedience of God’s command: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it”, he says (Genesis 3:12).

She’s now merely “The woman”. Humanity moved from loving adoration to shifting blame to one another, from being both “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25) to covering our nakedness and hiding ourselves and our motives from one another and God.

Instead of mutual care and self-giving, there is now selfishness, inordinate desire and seeking dominance over the other (Genesis 3:16). Sin entered our lives, complicating and twisting this beautiful relationship given to us by God.

It should be protected

Because we are not perfect and we’re getting married in a post-Genesis 3 world, marriages are fragile and need protection from the people in (and those not in) them. The Bible is full of warnings against adultery, but it also concerns itself with harmful attitudes between husbands and wives that undermine love, mutual appreciation, warmth, forgiveness and so on.

It also addresses the harmful attitudes of others who are not in the marriage and who don’t take the marriage covenant seriously. The letter to the Hebrews says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

God is aware of the world we live in, the temptations and challenges we encounter in daily life. Sometimes the spouses in a marriage, or the people close to them, don’t honor the marriage covenant. This can have dire consequences for all involved.

It’s a partnership

A marriage is a partnership in which both spouses have a role to play and something to contribute to the nurture and health of the relationship, and any children that may come from the marriage. Both the husband and wife have a role to play in instructing their children and in how they relate to each other.

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction,” says Proverbs 1:8, “and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”. Paul talks about the framework within which our relationships work. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”, he writes in Ephesians 5:21.

There is to be a conciliatory attitude in the marriage relationship to help that relationship flourish, so when we talk about “submission” and “loving one another,” it is not about sublimating your personality or strength but about leveraging it toward making the marriage work. This requires the work and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in us.

Christian Couples Counseling

Our marriages need strengthening and for us to grow in listening, handling conflict and hardship in a constructive manner. Couples counseling is a great way to continue this growth and address any underlying unaddressed issues so that your marriage flourishes.

Whether you are encountering persistent difficulties within your marriage or simply want to continue working toward a flourishing marriage, prayerfully consider Christian couples counseling with your spouse.

Photos:
“Bride and Groom”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wedding in Abruzzo”, Courtesy of Foto Pettine, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of freestocks, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Putting the Ring on the Finger”, Courtesy of Sir Manuel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Treatment for Depression: Relational Risks and Remedies

When discussing treatment for depression, it’s important to begin by considering the various causes of depression. mentioned in a previous article written by this author on the topic of depression,Causes of Depression – including Relational and Spiritual Perspectives,” there are a variety of reasons why someone succumbs to depression. Often a mixture of genetics, brain chemistry, and family history play a role in the development of depression.

Furthermore, certain individuals may have a biological predisposition or vulnerability to mood issues when faced with overwhelming stressors. When ample distress is added to a pre-existing vulnerability, an individual is likely to become emotionally dysregulated with symptoms ranging from anxiety to depression.

Depression can be situational or characterological, meaning it can be caused by trauma or loss, but it can also be a kind of personality adaptation as well (think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh).

Underlying medical conditions (such as thyroid or hormonal issues), use or abuse of prescription medication or other substances (alcohol, marijuana, etc.), a lack of adequate nutrition (eating too much sugar or processed foods) or physical activity, and any pre-existing addictions may contribute to the development of depression.

Of course, family history and environment also play a part in developing depression, as does the experience of childhood neglect and abuse. In my practice of psychology, I have discovered that a pattern of dishonesty or living outside the bounds of integrity is an often-overlooked contributor to depression.

While a biological or medical cause of depression may be helped with prescription medications for a time, it is still essential to identify and resolve the underlying behaviors and emotions which support a biologically based depression. Keep in mind that even a biologically based depression (such as post-partum depression) is always also behaviorally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually supported.

Treatment for Depression

While many practitioners readily focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and depend upon medication as treatment for depression, it is rarer that a therapist understands that it is our relationship with our self, others and God which must also be assessed, addressed, and re-calibrated to effectively cure a depression (and possibly protect against it in the future).

Throughout several decades of clinical practice and observation, I have noticed that most mental health issues tend to be tied to a failure to adapt in some way to something for which one is unprepared or inadequately prepared. Stressors have come along for which the person is under-resourced either internally (within themselves) or externally (via necessary support structures, friends, family, community).

Destructive defense mechanisms and misinformed or misaligned coping skills are responsible for much mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering. Whereas wellness or the antidote to mental illness always involves achieving greater alignment among each aspect of our human “being.”

Wellness also involves repair and reparation in relationships with those with whom we have been unloving, insensitive, hurtful, unfair, neglectful, or abusive. Assuming appropriate responsibility in our interactions with others is generally accompanied by a greater sense of confidence and freedom, as well as more mutually satisfying relationships.

Good psychotherapy presents us with an opportunity to identify and correct aspects of misalignment within ourselves and within our relationships with God and others. This kind of relational misalignment is evidence of a lack of integrity in the individual, meaning that the person is fragmented within and incapable of clear and effective self-expression.

A lack of or repression of self-expression predictably leads to depression. Finding one’s voice and beginning to express oneself authentically is another pathway that leads away from depression and toward health and wellness.

We must understand how our everyday choices and patterns of interaction either contribute to or destroy our serenity and capacity for happiness and joy. Furthermore, each decision we make, especially under duress, is a determinant in moving us either closer toward or further away from a state of mental illness or mental misalignment.

As stated in the previously mentioned article by this author (see above), once the root cause(s) of your depression is/are understood the therapeutic remedy follows accordingly. Please be aware that the solutions offered by a practitioner tend to be tied to the medical or mental health professional’s understanding of the nature of depression. One’s professional point of view often tends to determine the type of treatment for depression prescribed.

For example, a psychiatrist is likely to prescribe medications to address and enhance neurotransmitter functioning. Of course, while this type of treatment for depression can bring some eventual relief, it also leads to a kind of subscription service that maintains one’s dependence upon a medical professional as well as the prescribed medication over the long term.

So, while in some cases, medication may be necessary, in my opinion, medication alone merely maintains a level of functioning and helps with the management of mood issues. Meanwhile, the person’s lifestyle and life choices may continue to support a dysfunctional level of inadequacy which can undermine one’s success and satisfaction in meeting the changing demands of daily life.

From another perspective, a fitness and nutrition-oriented mental health professional is likely to focus on your lifestyle habits and nutrition as a possible culprit in ongoing depression. While a psychodynamically oriented therapist will look for the source of depression in your early family life experiences.

In my practice, I work holistically, taking into consideration many possibilities of origin and then matching the focus of treatment for depression to the individual’s current level of resources, needs, and desires.

Some of the areas we will explore together include lifestyle and nutritional profile, extended family and upbringing, cultural influences, unresolved trauma, unprocessed pain, spiritual alienation, interpersonal misalignment, experiences of abuse or neglect, medications and supplements, sleep and exercise, and how well resourced you are internally and externally in terms of self and other support.

Relational Risks and Remedies

Problematic (interpersonal and intrapersonal) styles of relating contribute to the development of depression. While the word “interpersonal” refers to interactions between two or more individuals, the word “intrapersonal” describes our relationship with (and within) ourselves.

Problematic patterns of intrapersonal relating (the way we relate to ourselves generally as well as how we respond when disappointed, hurt, or rejected) tend to be overlooked and/or misunderstood in terms of their contribution to the development of depression and other mood disorders.

Let me assure you that the way you treat yourself matters even more than how you respond to others – especially because you are in a lifelong (even eternal) relationship with your inner being, your soul. Self-betrayal is a frequent and significant contributor to all kinds of mental health problems.

Being kind, compassionate, and understanding with yourself while also being principled and disciplined in matters of importance is the antidote to the deadening pain of ongoing self-criticism, self-rejection, self-betrayal, and a feeling of failure.

One of the most common intrapersonal causes of depression is a practice of saying “yes” when you authentically have an inclination or gut reaction to say “no.” Such behavior is an example of a kind of inner abandonment or self-betrayal which is never something God asks of us. Behaving this way is inauthentic and self-victimizing.

The motive for engaging this undermining pattern usually involves fear and a subsequent felt need to control, manipulate, or manage the impression of another person. A pattern of saying “yes” when you want to say “no” is a kind of dishonesty.

It is also unfair to others and makes you an unsafe person in relationships. You may want to ponder this paragraph for a bit to help this information seep into your soul as a reminder of God’s intention and purpose for us as his “fearfully and wonderfully made” children.

A second quite common intrapersonal risk involves a pattern of overriding your intuitive sense (gut reaction) when it indicates a lack of safety. This undermines one’s sense of self, sense of personal efficacy, and sense of personal dignity. It is essential when seeking to live a life of integrity to conscientiously and prayerfully determine whether something asked of you is in your best interest or whether it undermines and destroys intimacy.

This is because a foundation of trust is necessary to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships. A pattern of ongoing self-betrayal is a recipe for distrust and eventual relational disaster. This is one of the first things I pay attention to when getting to know a new client. I ask each person, with whom in your life do you have difficulty saying “no?” and then we explore the meaning of this and how it came to be.

Another significant relational risk contributing to depression occurs because of an ongoing pattern of spending time with someone you genuinely dislike or distrust. Over-giving and a lack of relational reciprocity also lead to a relationally based depression.

Do you find it difficult to express yourself when something matters to you? Is it difficult for you to expect that your preferences, opinions, and needs will be considered a priority in your close relationships? Are you able to inform others fairly and firmly when you have hit a personal limit?

Are you comfortable establishing and maintaining a self-protective boundary or do you mistakenly believe that boundaries are things we set for other people in an attempt to govern their behavior? Difficulties in any of these areas may be fueling or feeding symptoms of depression. The antidote to depression is to develop a full range of authentic self-expression.

Please come back next week for the next article in this series in which I will be discussing the risks and remedies of a spiritually-based depression.

If you’re ready to begin treatment for depression, I invite you to contact me or one of the other practitioners in the counselor directory to schedule an appointment today.

Photos:
“Feeling sad,” courtesy of Danny G, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stay with me,” courtesy of Christiana Rivers, unsplash.com, CC0 License; Quote images designed by California Management Services, copyright 2020, all rights reserved

The Importance of Choosing Forgiveness

There comes a point in each person’s journey when forgiveness is needed. People will hurt you. You will hurt people. And you will break the heart of God, too.

Forgiveness is such a heavy word. There are feelings of pain that come up for some, feelings of release that come up for others. It is complicated and hard to understand and even harder to do.

But as Christians, people are commanded to forgive just as Christ forgave them (Ephesians 4:32). So if this is this important, then what is it? How do you forgive others? How do you ask for forgiveness? Why it is so important?

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a major theme in the Bible, if not the theme. It is a part of the whole narrative of scripture, describing the process of the fall of man in sin and God’s forgiveness of sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

God’s forgiveness is radical, even to the point of completely forgetting sin (Hebrews 8:12, 10:17; Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus talks of forgiving “seventy-seven” times, and Paul says that you “should forgive just as the Lord has forgiven you” (Matthew 18:21; Colossians 3:13).

To know God’s forgiveness, simply ask for it. He freely gives it when you ask for forgiveness. To really know it, read and study it in the word. It is beautiful and rich and undeserved. It is given freely to anyone to turns from his sin, turns to God, and asks Him to forgive him.

Those in the world of secular Psychology have also found the value of practicing forgiveness. They see it a little differently than how the Bible discusses it. This is how most seem to define it:

“Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition).

Many in the world of psychology have also focused on what forgiveness is not because it such a complicated and heavy concept.

What Forgiveness is NOT

In Anger Management for Everyone, the authors define forgiveness like this:

“A process that allows you to untangle the relationship among your thoughts, your actions, and the responses of your body. As you’ll see, forgiving people for what they did doesn’t mean forgetting what they did. It also doesn’t mean accepting it, excusing it, defending it, or being neutral about their nasty actions. It doesn’t mean becoming passive and taking no action to make things better. Rather, forgiving requires developing a better understanding of the actions of others and taking steps to improve your family life, work life, and overall happiness. Forgiveness means letting go of the anger.”

The authors then list what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgetting: Though forgetting what another has done to you is possible, it is not necessary for the forgiveness process. “Forgive and forget” is near impossible in some hurtful situations, but it is possible to not dwell on them as much in your thoughts.
  • Accepting: To forgive does not mean to passively accept or be indifferent to some injustice done to you or another. For example, a teacher sees a student cheating on a test. While the teacher does forgive the student when the student asks, she still will not accept the behavior. The student receives a failing grade.
  • Excusing: Similar to accepting, forgiveness is not saying what happened was OK as long as there was a reason for it. For example, he is only mean when he is drunk, but he has a drinking problem. He is not mean when sober. This is an excuse for his mean behavior.
  • Neutrality: This suggests that no sides are taken in a conflict. Forgiveness does not have to mean this. One can forgive and still “choose a side.” For example, someone drinks and drives and crashes into your daughter’s car. You can choose to forgive the driver, but you remain loyal to your daughter in the legal battle that follows.
  • Justifying:Forgiving does not mean acting as if nothing wrong happened, or as if all is right. Though Christ’s forgiveness does this for those who believe in Him, it does not seem to look like this in relationships. For example, a friend says something unkind that attacks your character and does not apologize or think he is wrong. You are hurt, choose to go through a process of forgiveness, but you still share with him that it is not OK for him to treat you that way.
  • A One-time Thing:Forgiveness is a long process. It is not usually a one-time decision, but a long road of decisions to daily forgive. It occurs over time. This is possibly what Jesus meant when He said to forgive seventy-seven times. He knew it was a process of choosing to forgive over and over again.
  • Seeking justice and compensation: At times, people think they will only feel better if justice is served or they get some sort of compensation for the wrong done to them. Forgiveness is an act of understanding, not demanding something in return. In fact, many times forgiveness is one-sided, meaning that they receive nothing in return, except freedom from the burden of their own anger.
  • Condemning: There is no condemnation with true forgiveness. There is no attack on the person or their character.

Why should someone choose to forgive?

“By minimizing your anger, resentment, bitterness, and desire for revenge, you become stronger and more able to live with greater joy. Forgiveness involves letting go of negative attitudes and anger and adopting a perspective of understanding, compassion, and goodwill toward the person who triggered your anger.” (from Anger Management for Everyone)

When you choose forgiveness, you choose to release the hold that bitterness has on you. Unforgiveness does not hurt the other person as much as it hurts you. It plants anger in you that grows and simmers into resentment and mistrust of others. It is often what keeps you from entering into new meaningful relationships in the present and future.

More than the relational and psychological benefits, forgiveness is an act of obedience to God. It is not easy to do, and it requires full dependence on God to be able to do it in a way that honors Him. Though it may not be humanly possible to forgive each other as radically as Christ forgives, His model is a great place to start. However, some have worked to demonstrate what this process of forgiveness could look like.

How do you forgive someone? (from Anger Management for Everyone)

Step 1: Uncover anger

The process of forgiveness really begins when you can acknowledge the wrong done to you and the effect it had on you. What happened that hurt you or triggered your anger? How did you feel about it? How did you react? When anger subsides from a situation that led to anger, what feelings are below the surface?

Step 2: Decide to forgive

Continuing to focus on the triggering event and unhelpful thoughts associated with it will only lead to more anger and bitterness. Forgiveness is a choice to let go of those feelings and thoughts. Ask yourself, “What is my anger toward this person doing to me?”

Step 3:Know what forgiveness is/not (see above)

Step 4:Work to understand why others behave badly

It is important to find some compassion and understanding for the one who harmed you. This does not mean you are justifying their actions or release them from their responsibilities. It just simply means that you attempt to understand their actions.

Why did they do what they did? No matter the situation, human beings are imperfect and inevitably hurt and disappoint one another. There always will be more to the story, but that is one thing to remember.

Step 5: Give

Offer forgiveness to them, even if (when) they do not deserve it. It could be as simple as stating, “I am choosing to forgive you.” This is an act of grace and mercy toward another. It demonstrates to them that you are letting it go, and it gives them a picture of the way Christ forgives them, too.

Forgiveness is challenging, but it is possible. When you choose this road less traveled, you will experience freedom from the burden of bitterness, and Christ promises that you will be forgiven, too.

Resources:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

Bible Verses from the English Standard Version

Tafrate, Raymond C., Ph.D. and Kassinove, Howard, Ph.D. Anger Management for Everyone: Seven Proven Ways to Control Anger and Live a Happier Life. 2009.

Photos:
“Hands and Flower”, Courtesy of Lina Trochez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Gus Moretta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Broken Heart”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

How Could the Enneagram Personality Test Relate to Christian Counseling?

Words can be a funny thing. Over time, their meaning can change and new words come into our vernacular. One word you might be hearing more often is “Enneagram.” For those who don’t know what it is, it might sound like a diagram. Others think it’s a medical tool, like a sonogram. Often people hear it and think it’s something scientific that doesn’t apply to them.

Today let’s unravel what it is and why it’s useful for everyone. This helpful personality tool is being used by counselors, spiritual directors, pastors, small group leaders, and everyday people. It has even been connected to the Seven Deadly Sins to help us understand our sin nature.

What is the Enneagram Personality Test?

“The Enneagram opens you to an extraordinary view of the truth about you. It can help you recognize your unique melody as well as where you are off-key internally and relationally.” – Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, by Adele Doug Calhoun and Clare Scott Loughrige

At its most basic, it is a tool for understanding personality. As we expand from there we see it’s a valuable resource for spiritual development. It teaches us ways we’re prone to struggle, our weaknesses and strengths, and ways to find harmony.

Nine Enneagram personality types are the main focus. Though there are sub-types and wings as well, most people are concerned with their main type. Each type corresponds to a number. These types influence how we understand and interact with the world, others, God, and ourselves.

The name comes from the Greek word enneawhich means nine andgram meaning figure. Each of the nine types is mapped out into a geometric design. On this chart, we see how the other numbers interact with and influence one another. It can also show ways we lean to another number during periods of stress, trauma, or transition.

The exact origins of the Enneagram personality test are a mystery. It’s an ancient method for understanding human personality. This tool has been used by Christians and other religions around the world for centuries.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that tool came to the United States. American-trained psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo brought it here. He helped merge the nine types and modern psychological research. After bringing it to the US, one of Naranjo’s first students was a priest named Father Robert Ochs. He began teaching it as a tool at Loyola seminary. It has continued to spread and is now known by millions.

Today many of Ochs’ original students are teachers themselves. Often those who teach and offer Enneagram coaching share their lineage to Ochs. This is similar to how we share our family lineage. Coaches are available through counseling offices, churches, private practice, online, and more. You’ll find books, classes, and even a few apps available to help guide you on your journey, all thanks to one man bringing it to the US.

Using the Enneagram in everyday life

It can be far too easy to take a personality test and never think about it again. We take the test everyone on Facebook is taking, think “hm, that’s interesting,” post our results, and never think about it again. Even with a tool this transformative, this still happens. There is an urge to find out our type without exploring it so we feel like we fit in is for all of us.

Diving into our type feels vulnerable. It feels like opening ourselves up to parts we may not want to know about or face. Yet diving in has the chance to transform your life in the best of ways.

Knowing what our type looks like as healthy and unhealthy gives us tools to approach challenges. Your study will point back to yourself, as well as to how you relate to others and to God.

Benefits of the Enneagram

These are some of the ways the Enneagram has benefited people in their everyday lives:

  • Couples have found it helpful to understand their partner’s behaviors, beliefs, core longings, and struggles.
  • In the workplace, bosses and managers are using it to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, and build a strong team.
  • Pastors and priests can use it to better understand themselves and their parishioners.
  • Parents have found it to be a wonderful way to relate to their adult children.
  • Our type can also give us unique insight as to how we relate with God, the areas where we sin, and spiritual disciplines that will benefit us.
  • In small groups knowing one another’s type can help group members interact with each other with more grace and kindness.

This is transformative and has changed countless lives worldwide. According to author Beth McCord “…The Gospel itself is the transformation. The Enneagram simply illuminates our heart’s intent. The Enneagram can show us what’s wrong; only Christ can fix it.” (Becoming Us: Using the Enneagram to Create a Thriving Gospel Centered Marriage)

Some people are private about their type. Perhaps they feel ashamed of their type or feel revealing their type will give away information they’re not ready to share. Just as we never push someone to tell us personal information, we never want to push someone to tell us their type.

Finding your Enneagram type

People are usually eager to find their types. For some, this is a quick process and they’re able to find their type within a matter of days or even hours. In other cases, it can take weeks, months, or even years.

It seems to be especially difficult to find one’s type if someone has been through trauma, chronic stress, or other challenging situations recently. In those situations, we often lean towards a different type. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to type themselves then study more or come out a chaotic life situation to realize they were actually a different type.

The best way to begin finding your type is to read brief descriptions. Next, find additional resources and do more in-depth reading about that type and its wings. Sometimes people will choose to do a thorough study of each type over a long period of time. Then they type themselves after coming to an understanding of all the types.

There are a few apps and online quizzes that offer the ability to type yourself as well. As with anything online, some are better than others. Take them with a grain of salt as only a good way to get initial ideas. Then dive into deeper research of that type to see if it sounds like you.

You’ll find courses and books galore. There are dozens of podcasts, YouTube videos, and sermons available to help out. The Christian band Sleeping At Lasteven wrote a song based on each type. People have found them to be quite helpful when trying to discern their type.

It can be tempting to type others but don’t try. We want to relate to them better, unravel their quirks, or justify their actions. A person’s type is personal. In typing ourselves, we face aspects we may not have ever faced before. Typing oneself involves exploring things our closest friends and family may not even be aware of. It’s not possible to know what others think, feel, or experience so it’s not possible to type anyone else.

Don’t worry if this all feels overwhelming to you – it’s almost like learning a new language. Exploring with a trusted guide such as a spiritual director, pastor, priest, or counselor can be helpful. They can help you to find your type and help work through feelings that might arise. Then you can work together to figure out how to engage with God and how you understand God in light of your type. Christians are finding this to be one of the most helpful resources in understanding their own sin nature and building a strong walk with God.

The Enneagram Personality Test is also a powerful tool in the context of a counseling relationship. Working with the psychological background in mind has proven to be quite helpful. Let your counselor know if this is a tool you’re interested in exploring together.

Photos:
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Scriptures on Relationships: What Does the Bible Say about Friendship?

Our lives are made up of a web of relationships – with colleagues at work, at home with parents, siblings and children, with our neighbors, and so much more. One important type of relationship, which can take different shapes and develop around a variety of interests, is friendship.

Friendships range from the casual acquaintance or former classmate you bump into or “friend” on social media, to the kinds of friendships where you would entrust your life and the lives of your loved ones into their hands.

Some friends are the people we rely on – we cry, laugh, sing, pray, and do life with – and they can do the same with us. To find and have a good friend is something priceless.

Scriptures on Relationships

What does the Bible say about friendship, and what timeless wisdom can we glean from the Scriptures on relationships to navigate this important part of our lives?

We are built for relationships

One of the realities about us as people is that we generally gravitate toward other people and toward relationships with them. Even if we struggle to trust people or connect with them, we have something of a yearning to meaningfully relate to other people. This is understandable when you realize that human beings were built for relationships.

Do you know why you really, really enjoy your friends and their company? And why we crave connection with other people? Genesis 1:27 says that human beings were made “in the image of God.” This means there is something about us which reflects who God is.

We will get into this more a little later, but one of the things about God is that God is relational by nature. God made us to be in relationship with one another – despite being surrounded by immense beauty and a plethora of animals, God thought that human solitude was ‘not good’ (Genesis 2:18).

We need the company and connection with other human beings. That’s why one of the worst punishments which can be inflicted upon a person is to place them in solitary confinement.

While there may be many complications involved, we are fundamentally built for relationships and connection with other people. The capacity and desire for meaningful relationships is an integral part of who we are as beings made in God’s image.

Friendships are enriching

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” says the ancient wisdom from the book of Proverbs (27:17). When we are friends with someone, we let them into our space, let them get to know us, and allow them to have influence in our lives.

When a friend speaks into or over your life, because they are someone you have grown to trust, you take what they say seriously. And so, our friends have a role in developing and molding our character.

If they tell us something true about ourselves, even though it might be hurtful, “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). Deep friendships enrich us because good friends challenge us to be better versions of ourselves. In the same way that iron sharpens iron, good friends help to build us up even as we do the same for them.

The Bible also talks about friendships that are deeper than even the bonds of blood. Proverbs 18:24 speaks about “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” One example of this in the pages of Scripture is the relationship between David and Jonathan.

These two men pledged friendship to one another, so much so that when Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was hunting down and wanting to kill David out of jealousy, Jonathan went out of his way to warn his friend to keep him safe (1 Samuel 20). Some friends will go way out on a limb for us, much more than even our own siblings or parents. Such friends are precious.

This is the positive side of friendship, but there is another angle the Bible also talks about.

Certain friendships can derail us

The dark side of friendships is that they can derail us, depending on the person. Because our friendships can shape us in profound ways, we need to be careful who we befriend and invite into our inmost spaces.

As kids, many of us had at least one friend that our parents warned us about that they didn’t want us to play with. At times these parental bans were reasonable, because that kid didn’t care about school and her influence was affecting your grades.

At other times, parents had their own hang-ups and they simply didn’t want their kids to hang with a kid from a different background, and this was often not reasonable. But when God tells us to be careful who we associate with and who we let into our friendship spaces, it is being done from a place of wisdom and love.

God knows us through and through – our strengths, weaknesses, and so much more. God also loves us deeply and desires for us to flourish. The Bible is full of verses that warn us that we can become ensnared in the bad behavior of our friends, such as being hot-tempered (Proverbs 22:24), plotting violence (Proverbs 24:1) or overindulging in alcohol and food (Proverbs 23:20-21).

Whoever we invite into our inmost spaces to become our friends, to have influence in our thinking and behavior, they will have a profound impact on the development of our character. As Paul puts it, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

This does not mean that we are to be unloving, judgmental, hostile, or unhospitable to people who display some of these behaviors. No; Jesus was loving towards us and hung out with the “lowest of the low.” We are to always be courteous, loving, and kind, regardless the individual.

As Paul put it elsewhere, if we refused to associate with everyone who acted in this and other ungodly ways, we would have to leave the world altogether (1 Corinthians 5:10). Friendship, however, is deeper than mere association. To exercise wisdom in choosing our friends, the question is whether we are letting people into a position where they can influence and counsel us toward what is ungodly, or toward what will build up our character and theirs.

A true friend

There is one friendship we have not spoken about yet. Earlier, we touched on how as people we are hardwired for relationships, and that’s because we reflect who God is. Is it any wonder, then, that one of the friendships the Bible talks about is between God and people?

You may know of the song that goes, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear . . . .” This song is talking about something profound – that God desires relationship with people.

Jesus says that His disciples are His friends, and not just simply followers or servants. Do you recall that verse about a friend who sticks closer than a brother? Jesus – who is the same yesterday, today, and forever – exemplified that.

In John 15:13, Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus said this on the evening before He laid down His life for the sake of His friends, and the world. He demonstrated that great love for us.

What’s remarkable about all this is what another Bible writer says: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:6-8). It’s not for nothing that Jesus was called the “friend of sinners.”

Conclusion

As people, we are hardwired for relationship. We crave connection with other people, and despite some of the difficulties we may have in forming deep and long-lasting friendships, our hearts always yearn to find meaningful relationships.

By applying wisdom in this area of our lives, we can pursue healthy friendships that nourish us and our friends, helping us to grow more into the people we can become as bearers of God’s image.

Photos:
“Friends”, Courtesy of Omar Lopez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Trung Thanh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Laughing with Friends”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friendship,” Courtesy of rawpixel, unsplash.com, CC0 License