Helping you find your way to emotional, relational,
and spiritual wholeness.

Playlists and Prayer

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

It happens without warning.  When I am listening to the radio or watching television.  I feel like it happens against my will; as if there are forces at work with the sole purpose of high jacking my attention. All it takes is a couple of musical notes and a few short phrases and my mind is captured. I am distracted in the shower, on the way to work and when I am trying to fall asleep:

“You can’t always get what you want . . . “

“Rollin, rollin, rollin on the river . . . “

“I believe in miracles, where you from, you sexy thing . . .”

Once in my head, it takes very little effort to carry a song with me throughout the day.  It is not always the same song. I have about twenty songs on my mental playlist. Until recently, I assumed my playlist had the same hypnotic effect on everyone. I didn’t realize how personal my list was until I told my friends about my playlist.  Most of my songs are not on their playlists. In fact, it seems many of us have such a list, but no two lists are the same. What captures my attention may not capture yours and vice versa.

What does this have to do with prayer? For many people, constant prayer is much more difficult than keeping company with the lyrics of their favorite band. Why is paying attention to God so difficult? Wouldn’t it be great if being aware of God’s presence was as easy as singing a song?

Is it possible to learn to pray in such a way that being present to God is as natural as singing a song? There is an ancient way of praying that has helped people throughout the centuries. It is called a Breath Prayer.  A Breath Prayer is a very personal prayer between you and God. By using a Breath Prayer you can learn to be aware of God all the time no matter what you are doing.

How can you learn to pray this way?  First, you discover your Breath Prayer.  Then you practice it regularly and soon you are as easily aware of God’s presence as “Well, shake it up, baby, now, (shake it up, baby), Twist and shout. (twist and shout) . . .”

Discovering Your Breath Prayer

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.  Close your eyes, and remind yourself that God loves you and that you are in God’s loving presence.  Recall a passage of scripture that puts you in a prayerful frame of mind. Consider “The Lord is my Shepherd” or “Be still and know that I am God.”
  2. With your eyes closed, imagine God is calling you by name.  Hear God asking you by name, “What do you want?”
  3. Answer God with what directly comes from your heart.  Your answer might be a single word, such as peace or love or forgiveness.  It could also be a phrase or brief sentence, such as “I want to feel your forgiveness” or “I want to know your love.” Your response to God’s question “What do you want?” becomes the heart of your prayer.
  4. Choose your favorite name or image for God. Choices commonly made include God, Jesus, Creator, Teacher, Lord, Spirit, Father, Shepherd.
  5. Combine your name for God with your answer to God’s question “What do you want?” You then have your prayer. For example: 

What I want

Name I Call God Possible Prayer

Peace

God Let me know your peace, O God.

Love

Jesus Jesus, let me feel your love.

Rest

Shepherd My Shepherd, let me rest in you.

When your prayer seems right for you, silently repeat it throughout the day. Praying the prayer all the time takes practice and persistence. It will begin like any habit; you will need to be intentional about saying it when your brush your teeth, drive in the car, and are waiting in line at the store.

Eventually, like a song you can’t get out of your head, you will begin to pray without ceasing and you will aware of God throughout your day.

– Steve Nickles, M.Div

www.crossrd.com

Why is Change So Hard?

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, quit smoking or exercise? You have a goal in mind, but for some reason you don’t meet your goal. That is frustrating isn’t it? I have set many well-intentioned goals in my life and often not met them. I have tried the “should” incentive: Tell myself, “I should eat less calories” or “I should start walking every day.” Breaking bad habits or starting good ones is often hard and frustrating. Why is that? All sorts of experts have theories about why people change or don’t change. One of the common reasons for not changing is lack of motivation. There is an old saying, maybe you’ve heard, “until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change” a person will not make the hard choices to change. If that is true, now it feels like an even MORE hopeless prospect that I will change to meet my goals! I am LESS motivated to change because now I have to wait until I am completely miserable before I can change.

One noted psychologist, Dr. William Miller, has spent a good deal of his professional career studying and looking for ways to increase motivation for change. He doesn’t agree with the “pain of staying the same…” theory—also known as the “hit bottom” theory. He believes people can find the motivation for change before they “hit bottom”. Miller believes that ambivalence is one reason people don’t change. Miller believes that people often hold two opposing desires at the same time. E.g. “I want to eat healthy, but I love eating unhealthy foods.” Ambivalence is a normal human phenomenon. Don’t we all have ambivalence about many things in our lives? I may love lying in bed, but I also love having the money to pay for the roof over my bed—therefore I force myself up and go to work. Dr. Miller and others have also found that there is another old saying that is more helpful to use for change: “ready, willing and able.” Thus, if a person has enough willingness, readiness and ability they will have the motivation needed to change. If they do not have it at present, the can INCREASE whichever one is lacking. So I may be willing to change my eating habits, but not able or not willing. I need all three at a high level before I take change-action. Let’s explore the three and then look at ways to measure and increase these three—not in the order cited above:

Willing: To be willing asks, “How important is the change to me?” I may or may not know the health benefits of changing eating habits or of quitting smoking. To be willing to change it is vital that I know how important a change is for me. Knowing the importance (reason) for change is good, but IT IS NOT ENOUGH in most cases to elicit motivation. I still need ability and readiness.

Able: How confident am I that I have what it takes to make the necessary changes to meet my goal? i.e. How confident am I that I can change? Is it physically possible? Do I have the resources? Do I have the emotional, psychological and/or spiritual strength? If my answer is “yes” to all those questions, AND I know the importance (willing) I still need one more component before I take action.

Ready: Am I ready to do this? In other words, is making this change a priority right now? If it is, how high of a priority? If it is at the bottom of my priority list, then odds are I am not going to be ready enough to actually take change action. Being ready enough means it is the right time for me to do this. It is a high enough priority that I want to make a plan today.

How do I know if I am ready, willing and able? I may see that change is important and believe I have the ability and even “feel” ready to make change, but is it enough? Do I need a certain amount of readiness or willingness? Those who advocate these ideas believe the answer is “yes.” One does need a high amount of these three before making changes. How can I measure these ingredients? One suggested measurement is the good old 1-10 scale. You can ask yourself—or do this with your counselor if you are in therapy—things like; “How important is this change to me?” [1=not important at all and 10=very important.] Do the scale for ALL THREE. This will help you gauge where you are on all three. If you discover you are a 10 on willingness, 9 on ability and 3 on readiness then you know your strong and weak areas. The score in my example is very positive—I’m already 2/3rds of the way to change!

What can I do to increase my numbers? That is the key isn’t it? But before we look at this we need to go back to what was said earlier about ambivalence. I have to realize that part of me wants to change and part of me DOES NOT. The more I like the status quo the harder it will be for me to want to change. I will “yes, but” myself out of every suggestion to change. You may be familiar with the “yes, but…” scenario. I listen to the reasons to exercise daily then say, “yes that sounds important, but I get up really early in the morning already—I would have to get up even earlier and it is not good to be sleep deprived right?” Due to this ambivalence, it may be helpful for some of us to work through these things with help. Working through motivation and change with a therapist may be the best option for you. For others you can do it on your own.

Ok, let’s talk increasing my ready, willing and ableness. Since this is a blog and not a book, I will offer some examples.

Increasing the amounts:

Willingness: Do research on the subject—become more informed. Having knowledge about the costs and benefits of your change (or no change) is helpful. Talk to experts if you can. Become an expert ON YOURSELF. Why? Because it is important to know what is going on inside you—remember the “yes, but…” due to ambivalence. I may want to find information that only supports the part of me that DOESN’T want change. (if you look hard you can find it)

Able: Here again research is helpful. Find out what others have done or what one needs to do to make the change you are planning. Look at your past history. Have you ever made this change in the past? If so, then you were able one time, maybe you can do it again. Is there help available? Many times I am NOT able to make a change on my own. There are usually support groups etc… for many change goals people set.

Ready: Here you may want to explore the costs and benefits of change. What does not making the change cost me? Make a detailed list of physical, spiritual and emotional costs for staying the same. Make the same list of benefits for staying the same. Then make the same two lists if you DID change. Maybe you need to talk to people in your life to see how they are affected by your not changing. Many times people that are hurt by my bad habits may be trying to tell me (or have tried) how they feel about my behaviors, but I justified it or did something else to tune them out. Really listen (see last two blogs on this site) to them so you feel their impact.

Change is hard, but not impossible! And the final—yet not least important—motivation to change is God working in us! Many of my changes are not just physically or emotionally beneficial, but they may have a direct connection to my relationship with God. In other words my behavior that needs changing is a sinful behavior that hurts my intimacy with my Lord. Whether it is a sinful behavior or just something I want to change I can always ask God for help. Paul tells us in Romans,”. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

www.crossrd.com

Hearing God

In my role as a spiritual director people often ask me questions about God and walking with God. They ask theology questions, questions about how to study the Bible, or could I recommend a good book on prayer.

But the question I get the most is “How do I know when God is speaking to me?” How do I know that it isn’t Satan, or my own selfish desires, or if I’m deluding myself? How do I know when God is speaking to me?

I tell them the way we come to recognize the voice of God is the same process we use to recognize anyone else’s voice. In the same way you learn to recognize the voice of your wife or a friend calling you on the phone; we learn to recognize God’s voice. I don’t need Caller ID to tell me when my wife, children or best friend is on the other end of a phone conversation. Familiarity builds recognition.

How does someone’s voice become familiar to us?

We begin by listening and paying attention. As we do this, there are certain things we need to listen for.

First, we listen for the quality of the Voice.

The Voice of God carries with it the weight of authority. Like Jesus when He told the raging sea to “Be Still” or when He commanded evil spirits to come out of a man or when He called Lazarus out of the tomb. When God speaks to us, it carries the weight of authority.

The voice of God doesn’t argue, or try to convince us to do something. God doesn’t rationalize or justify what He wants us to do. God does not try to manipulate us into obeying Him. Satan does, your sinful nature does, and the world does. But the voice of the God states it clearly without apology, without argument, without justifications. Listen for the quality of the Voice.

The voice of God also has a unique Spirit or tone about it.

Listen for the tone of the Voice In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Gentle and Humble.

When God speaks to you the voice you hear will not be loud, hysterical, demanding, anxious, angry or frantic. God’s voice is gentle, calm and firm. In James 3:17 it says that “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Pay attention to the tone of the Voice.

The third criteria for determining the source of the voice you are hearing is Content.

Listen for the Content of the Voice. In John 14:26, Jesus says that the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything Jesus has said.

The content of the voice of God will always conform to and be consistent with what Jesus has said and done. Any voice that does not sound like something Jesus would say is not a word from God.  Period!

As pastor Charles Stanley comments, “God’s voice will never tell us to engage in any activity or relationship that is inconsistent with the Holy Scriptures.” The Holy Spirit will never tell you to steal, to have an affair, to gossip, to slander, to avoid church, to not share your faith, to not read your Bible, to avoid prayer, to seek revenge, to not forgive someone, to be afraid of something God might say to you, or to judge someone. If these are the voices or thoughts going through your head, they are not from God.

Quality,Tone, and Content.

If it is God speaking, these three indicators will be in harmony with one another. If any of the three is a little off, you need to question the source of the voice and whether it has your best interest in mind.

God desires to be your friend; a friend who freely listens as you speak and one who wants you to recognize his voice when he speaks to you. A friend who’s voice you naturally recognize and respond to throughout your day. As you pay attention to the Quality, Tone, and Content of God’s voice you will learn to become familiar with God’s voice; as one friend to another.

 

 – Steve Nickles, M.Div

www.crossrd.com

Deer Anxiety

I have two questions: One, have you ever had deer in your back yard? My wife and I have a back yard that backs up to woods. We have deer in our back yard on a regular basis. In over 15 years of living there we have never harmed or tried to harm our back yard visitors. (if you are a hunter don’t stop reading, this is not an anti-hunting article). In fact, we make sure there is plenty of seed for them and the other wildlife that grace our property. Yet the deer are always on high alert in our yard. They eat and quickly look up in fear to see what made the little noise they heard. Sometimes the noise is me opening the window or clearing my throat as I watch them. I want to tell them, “don’t be scared–it’s just me! I would never hurt you…in fact the food you are eating is from me!” Though I know if I tried to explain that to them they would start running because of my voice.  I think it would be nice if they could read. I could write them a letter and post it by the bird feeder for all to see. It may say something like:

Dear Deer,

Please be at ease in this yard. The owners of this property are friendly and have no intention of harming you. So, when you see us at the window or coming out our door you can simply tell yourself—EVERY TIME, “It’s just the owners. I have seen them before and I know they are not a cause for alarm—there is no danger when I feel or see them.”

Question two: Have you ever felt anxiety or had panic attacks? Feeling anxiety and/or panic is not a pleasant experience. Those of us who have or do suffer with it know it is a terrible feeling.  Some physical symptoms can be shortness of breath, chest pains, nausea, stomach pains, fainting sensation, jittery nerves or a feeling like your skin is crawling. Emotionally one may feel scared, confused, frustrated or maybe angry. Spiritually some feel they are not trusting God who tells us in scripture, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (NIV Philippians 4:6).

Anxiety is the body being on high alert—like the deer in our yard–usually for no reason. In other words there is no real danger, but our bodies are acting like there is danger! Research has shown anxiety symptoms can be relieved by changing our thinking! Yes, there are medications and they can be helpful—and often needed. Medications don’t change one’s thinking and that is what is KEY to relieving anxiety. Many times anxiety leads to panic because a person believes the symptoms are dangerous. People may tell themselves, “I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m going to pass out” etc… Or a person may keep asking, “What is wrong with me? Something must be terribly wrong!” There are many good books about how to relieve anxiety. There are DVD’s and all kinds of resources out there to help bring relief and in some cases complete extinction of symptoms available. As a therapist I recommend them to people. What often happens is people learn that anxiety is the body reacting to some thought (maybe even subconsciously) that says “danger.” That is why calming the body down through relaxation and breathing is vital to anxiety relief. A third and crucial component is consistent, repetitive self-talk. If our mind is racing with thoughts about our anxiety symptoms we need to tell it, “it’s ok, it is JUST ANXIETY!” I say “just” not to imply that anxiety is not uncomfortable, scary, annoying and downright debilitating. It is those things for some of us and more! If you have been medically cleared by your doctor—so you know you don’t have heart, lung or gastrointestinal problems—it is just anxiety. It is NOT a real danger. So maybe writing a letter to your anxiety and posting it someplace you will see it and can read it often is a good tool to use to remind your brain of the facts. You might write yourself a letter that says something like:

Dear Self (or Dear anxious self),

Please be at ease. The feelings you are having—though disturbing—are NOT dangerous. You know this because your doctor has checked you out and found nothing wrong with you—you have been given a clean bill of health. Therefore these feelings are here because your brain is telling your body something bad is about to happen or is happening. That is NOT true, these are just thoughts and thoughts do not have power to go outside your head and cause disasters, or hurt a loved one or leave you broke and homeless. Circumstances in life may do those things, but thoughts are only mental activities. I am labeling these symptoms the same way I label hiccups or hear burn or any other known thing that happens in my body. I know what it is: anxiety brought on by a mental activity. I know there are things to do to relieve these symptoms: breathing, relaxation, distracting activities and reasonable self-talk.”

I realize there is a wide range of severity of symptoms and anxiety disorders. If you are on the high range of intensity or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder you should seek professional help. A good team of people can help you work through this. If you are on the milder end you may want to try the letter to self —and other techniques to calm/relax your body.

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

www.crossrd.com

Making Room for God

Guilty pleasures—something we really like doing, but feel guilty about; not because there is something wrong with it, but because we are afraid other people will judge us for having such lowbrow tastes. One of my favorite movies gets at the heart of guilty pleasures. In the movie What About Bob; Bill Murray’s character said there are two different types of people in the world, people who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t. Who would say they like Neil Diamond after that! I confess, I belong to the first group, but I won’t wear my concert t-shirt. TV reality shows qualify as guilty pleasures. Most of my friends like them but hate to admit it. Some like Amazing Race, Duck Dynasty, Hell’s Kitchen, Jersey Shore, The Bachelor, American Idol, or Storage Wars. I like some of these, but others I just don’t understand their appeal. There is one reality show I not only don’t get, but it causes me anxiety just to flip by it on my way to other shows. The show is called Hoarders. In case you don’t know, it is a show about people who for a variety of reasons cannot throw anything away and those who love them and want to help free them from their clutter prisons. The hoarders often have stacks of paper and garbage from floor to ceiling filling their homes. Even when it seems like there is no way they could possibly fit one more thing into their house, they manage to somehow find a nook or cranny to squeeze it into. Their philosophy is “there is always room for more.” The result of their hoarding is they often miss out on the most important things in life because they fear losing the inconsequential. I don’t like the show for two reasons. The first is I am not fond of clutter, the other is the show is a metaphor for life in the United States. Everyone I know is a time hoarder. We keep adding stuff to our lives without taking anything away. We keep cramming more and more activities into our lives even though we don’t have any room for it. Consequently, even our relationships are spoken of in terms of making time for this person or that. When someone asks me if I can we can get together for dinner this week; I like a hoarder with an over packed house, ask my wife if we can “fit it in” the calendar. Sometimes I view God from this same perspective. How will I fit God into my over-packed life? Prayer becomes about time management rather than me seeking out an intimate relationship with the God who created me. The title of this post is a bit misleading. You probably thought I was going to give you three tips for squeezing God into the plies of your life. There is only problem with trying to “make room for God”, God won’t cooperate it. After years of frustration I finally figured out why. God has no desire to fit into our lives. He will not go along with my attempts to fit him in like some neglected friend waiting to see if he is important enough to get on our calendar. This is what I discovered: God designed our relationship with him to work in only one way—with him at the center. So, what do we do? Well, instead of trying to add one more thing to your life to try and give God more attention why don’t you try doing what you are already but just a bit differently? How? Learn to be present to God in the midst of what you are doing. One of the primary ways we grow to know God is by being present to our thoughts. Why? God communicates to us through our thoughts, and we need to learn how to be present to our thoughts if we want to be present to God. Stay with me. Whether it’s encountering God in the reading the Bible, hearing a sermon, listening to a friend or hearing God’s still small voice, the primary vehicle of God’s communication to us is our thoughts. Unfortunately, we have become experts in the art of distraction. But if you want to know God you need to be trained by God to be present to your thoughts. Now, there are two basic approaches to learning how to be present to your thoughts; both are long-term investments in your relationship with God. Today we are going to focus on one. These are not quick fixes, but with God’s help you may start to see some changes right away. The way to make room for God is to Modify. What I do mean by modify? Instead of adding something to your already packed life, you intentionally decide to do what are already doing, but just a bit differently. You can pick of one of these ideas: Instead of driving with the radio on or texting, you learn to drive in silence and use the time to speak and listen to God. This will train you to be more comfortable with silence and instead of distracting you from God’s presence it will be a trigger to help you pay attention. When you go for a walk or exercise, unplug from your IPod a few times a week and use the time to listen and talk with God. At work, you can invite Jesus to help you do your job. I say this often, Jesus is smartest person who ever lived. The fact that He is God means there is no one smarter. And He wants to help you do the best job you can at work. You can modify Sundays. Instead of Sunday looking like every other day of week, intentionally carve out 2-3 hours of rest and make yourself available to God. Also, when you spend time with other people whether a friend, family member, or at your child’s sporting events leave your phone in the car. It will train you to be present to what is in front of you, the people, your thoughts, and the God who longs to reveal himself in every part of your life. Once a week, every week, fast from technology. Don’t freak out. I have a smart phone, I know all the rationalizations. But I encourage you to give it a try; you will be surprised at what good can happen. Is your life packed? Too packed for God? I don’t think so.

– Steven Nickles, M.Div.

www.crossrd.com

How to Be a Good-Bad Cop

You remember “good cop / bad cop”?  That’s where one policeman appears aggressive, mean and dangerous while the “good cop” gently allies himself with the person being dealt with. This allows the person to feel reassured and protected, and so be inclined to open up and spill the beans.

Some parents get stuck on being Good Cop. They want their children’s trust and good will, so they tend to appease their kids away from possible conflict and avoid setting limits or exercising authority. They may be acting out of loving generosity, but it can also be based on the parent’s desire to avoid unpleasantness.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t usually have the effect they’re hoping for. A child’s developmental level equips her for “give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.” Instead of developing self-control, courtesy, and the ability to work cheerfully and with good will; a child deprived of training often yields a self-centered kid at the mercy of his own emotions and desires.

However, there is good news for peace-loving parents. “Bad Cop” does not have to equal “Mean Cop”.

Children need you to set limits. And to be effective, parents need to be convinced that setting those limits is reasonable and in the best interest of their son or daughter. A parent who feels sheepish about “imposing their preferences” on their child isn’t the consistent rock their child wants and needs to depend on.

Here are some things a Bad Cop mom or dad might say:

    • “I’m setting the timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, it will be time for you to go to bed. No, not later . . . 10 minutes.”

 

    • “Please don’t whine. What other way could you ask for that? No? Then I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

 

    • “We told you not to use the DVD player without checking with us first. No TV tonight.”

 

    • “What you said to Mrs. Purplemartin in the other room was rude. Go tell her you’re sorry.”

 

    • “I know you really want to go to Aloysius’ birthday party, but we’re visiting Grandma that day. Would you like to make a card and bring it over to him?”

 

  • “Absolutely no hitting! None! Come over here now please.”

What good cop / bad cop dilemmas have you faced? How did you handle them?

-Roz Dieterich, LMSW

Is My Yada Valid?

“Yada yada yada!” Every heard that before—beside on a Seinfeld episode? That is a frustrating statement to hear because it sends a message: “My concerns are not important or valid.” Couples researcher Dr. John Gottman found a big problem in communication observing couples. A cycle where each person keeps saying something over and over trying to get the other to hear them. (A Couples Guide to Communication.) One person makes a statement and the other responds in a way that sends a message that they did not hear/understand what they said. One person is trying to state a thought, concern or feeling to the other; and the response back is—yada yada yada. In other words, your statements are not valid! “Yada”= Your statements do not make sense to me, they “shouldn’t” be that, they are wrong!” (invalid)  What does invalidated person do? They continue to restate or summarize their concern over and over in different ways to try to get their concern validated. When two people are both doing this communication becomes frustrating and often results in an argument. How can couples stop this syndrome from happening?

What is validation? In a word, validation is seeing things from the standpoint of the other person. It is living out the old adage “walk a mile in their shoes.” It is saying that for THIS PERSON, given their set of circumstances, it is reasonable and true that they are feeling the way they are (or are concerned about whatever they are concerned about). Validating IS NOT agreeing with the person. I don’t have to agree, like it, or even understand it. It IS saying that it is possible that the other person’s viewpoint or feeling is real FOR THEM. Validation can end the cycle of each person restating their point—then defending it—over and over.

How can I validate my partner? One way to think about validating in a conversation is to think of changing roles. In conversations people usually have the same role. Both are speaker/listeners. To facilitate validation the couple each take a different role. One is teacher and the other student (don’t worry you can switch off later).  For validation to happen one person (or both) has to STOP restating his/her point (or feelings) and become the student. The student wants to learn from the teacher.

A little aside: I realize that these roles may seem degrading. Couples don’t want to think of your spouse as a teacher scolding or correcting you.  From a Christian worldview these roles can be positive instead of negative. Christians are called to serve one another. Jesus was called “teacher” or “master” by his disciples. In John’s gospel we find Jesus—the teacher—washing his student’s—disciples–feet. After he cleaned their muddy feet he said,

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17 NIV84)

Many times in conversation with my spouse I want to be right or I want to convince my spouse that they I am right and they are wrong. I want to come out a winner! It is humbling to put aside my agenda and take on the role of a student. Yet Jesus said if we do these things we will be “blessed.” The blessing of validation is experiencing communication and love at a greater level.

Ok, back to the nuts and bolts of validating. The teacher—the other person—tells the student what they are trying to say—or how they feel. The student’s job is to listen intently because he/she wants to pass the test! The student wants to get it right. The student feeds back what they learned from the teacher. The teacher then can affirm or correct the student.  The student then makes corrections and asks if the correction is right. This process continues until what the teacher is saying matches what the student is hearing. This usually ends with some form of “yes! That is exactly how I feel” or “That is exactly what I am saying.”  I love it when I see couples who had been caught in the cycle of restatement practice validation for the first time. The whole atmosphere changes! The folded arms drop and the angry postures start to melt. When you have been screaming for days, months or years in your marriage for your spouse to “hear” you (meaning validate you) and they finally do – it is incredibly healing.

Validation is not the solution to all communication problems or problems in general. Sometimes couples will practice validation and love the “blessing” they get from it, but then realize they still have unresolved issues. Validation is NOT problem solving—that is a different skill for another blog. Validation can facilitate the environment needed for problem solving to happen. My “yada” IS valid and so is yours. I may not like your “yada”, I may not understand it, and certainly may not agree with it, but it is, after all, YOUR “yada.”

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

Blood-Letting, 8-Track Tapes, and Death

7.9.12 Steve NicklesDoes anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care (about time)
If so I can’t imagine why (Oh no, no)
We’ve all got time enough to cry
–Chicago

Throughout history there have been countless ideas and inventions, some have stayed with us, while others have been long abandoned. Many innovation were discarded were dangerous or stupid. Some practices have stuck around because time has proved their value to all people and places.

The medical community created many innovations throughout history to help improve your life. Consider the medical procedure called blood-letting. It was a gruesome practice used until the late 1800’s. The technique involved draining specific amounts of blood from strategic locations on the body based on the patient’s age and ailment. Cancer involved one strategy while insanity used another. The more severe the disease, the more blood was drained. Doctor prescribed the procedure, while Barbers performed the grisly task using sharp metal instruments or leeches. Yes, the same guys who trimmed your bangs drained your blood! Thankfully, modern medicine finally dismissed the practice as harmful and Fantastic Sam’s can now focus its full attention on perms and a “little taken off the top”.

Medicine is not the only progressive institution to create innovations to improve the quality of your life. Long before iPods and even CDs, 8-track tapes were designed to improve on the scratchy sound produced by records and stereo needles. 8-tracks were hyped as the technology of the future. Regrettably, I bought the hype and in my early teens I owned a dozen or so of these plastic sandwich-sized tape containers because of the “easy and convenient payment methods” of Columbia House music club. Each month I would push the “tape” into my new 8-track tape player I had to buy to play the tapes and listened to music club selections like: the Beach Boys, Elton John, Jim Croce, or Chicago. Though I felt cool to be using the latest technology; it was a frustrating way to listen to music. Once the 8-track player started it was nearly impossible to navigate back and forth between songs unless I was standing right next to my stereo. I was grateful when 8-tracks were replaced by cassettes, CDs and now I-tunes.

The Christian Church also had its fair share of bizarre and short-lived practices designed to help disciples become more like Jesus. Extreme acts of asceticism like pillar sitting, diving naked into the snow, and killing people who disagree with you are just a few of the previously accepted practices employed by those who claimed to follow Jesus for the past two millennia.

One practice you may not know about has been observed for 2000 years. On the surface, you might think its morbid and weird and you might be confused about why it has not been thrown on to history’s trash heap along with blood-letting and 8-tracks. But unlike draining blood and plastic music containers, this practice has proved useful and beneficial throughout all times and places for those who follow Jesus. The practice is called “Daily Remembering your Death”.

Why would anyone in their right mind spend any time focusing on their death? Because the fact is we are going to die and exercise, healthy eating, and cosmetic surgery cannot prevent it. Despite the latest medical advances only God knows how many days we have left on this earth. The practice of daily remembering your death will not prevent you from dying, but it ironically may help you to live. Reminding yourself of your impending death focuses priorities; can make you quicker to forgive an offense, encourage you to express your love to others, and helps you to be present to what God is doing in the moment instead of living in an imaginary future.

You may have never pondered this question, how do you practice remembering your death?
• Silently walk through a cemetery once a week
• Read Psalm 90 daily
• Write out your obituary

What could appear as a morbid habit, God can use to free you to live more joyfully. You will gain perspective on what is important and fleeting and you will learn how to love those around you because you will live in the reality that it may be your last chance to express it.
Lots of things come and go—including you. Focusing on the timeless practice of remembering your death can help you to be present to what is going on right in front of you instead of wasting a lot of time.

– Steve Nickles, M.Div.

Fire Drill Procedures and Anger-Coping Skills

Police are called to a home for domestic violence. The police arrive to find a couple screaming and threatening each other. Things are broken in the home because they were throwing household objects at each other. Often people come into counseling and describe a story like the one just told. As I therapist I often wonder, “How did it get to this degree of aggression?” When the spark that ignited the fight is discovered it is often a relatively small problem or it is some comment that was misconstrued. Why do small, often solvable conflicts, turn from a lit match to a huge, and blazing house fire? How can these violent eruptions of burning anger and rage be prevented?

Remember the fire drills when you were in school? We were given instructions to drop what we were doing, get in an organized line and follow the teacher outside. We weren’t supposed to talk to one another—though we rarely obeyed that one. Then, after we were given instructions and walked through them, we would wait. Wait for some time during the day when the fire alarm would go off and we would DROP WHAT WE WERE DOING and follow procedures. Whatever current project or discussion that was going on before the alarm had to STOP. You put down books, scissors, crayons or whatever you were engaged in and started to follow the drill procedures.

When a conflict arises—the fire is sparked—and people start becoming upset what often happens is they feed it with gasoline. They open the windows and give the fire oxygen! When anger is “sparked” or triggered the most important thing that needs to happen is getting the fire out RIGHT AWAY. Think of anger triggers (“sparks”) as a fire alarm. You STOP what you are doing and start calming procedures. The sooner calming starts the chance of escalation is greatly reduced. When people escalate to rage, they stop thinking rationally. There are loads of long medical terms that are used to describe the physiology of the brain when angry that could be used here, but how about this: just think about the times when you or someone you knew became enraged. Then ask: “How well were my problem-solving skills working during the rage?” “How well was I able to edit the content of my speech so I was not just blurting out whatever came to mind?” We have all seen ourselves or others have a temper tantrum and knew it was anything but a calm, well-thought-out and rational event.

What is the solution to avoid the rage fire? Conflicts often escalate because one or both parties are trying to prove a point and/or win the fight. This creates an “I-just-need-to-say-this-one-thing” situation that continues on and on. My suggestion to people is to get training in anger management by a counselor or find good resource materials online or at a book store—there is plenty out there! These resources help you to:
• Identify your anger triggers
• Learn how your body feels when you are starting to get angry
• Find things to do to calm your body down (breathing, relaxation etc…)
• Know when to walk away
• Discover calming activities that work for you specifically
• How to terminate a conflict before it erupts (WAY before)

Learning these techniques are great, but they are MEANINGLESS if not practiced. As a therapist I often teach people these coping measures only to have them come back and say they had a big fight with someone. I will ask, “Did you try the coping skills?” Many times people will say, “Oh they didn’t work.” I will ask why and they are not sure. Or they may say, “I tried to calm down, but …..” When I investigate the event it USUALLY turns out to be that the person waited too long after the fire alarm went off in their body. The angrier a person gets the harder it is to calm down. I often say to people, “When your house catches on fire you don’t keep baking cookies do you?” The only thing important when the house is on fire is getting to safety and getting the fire PUT OUT. When our body fire alarm signals it is time to say, “I’ve just been triggered. I can feel myself getting angry. I need to start calming procedures.” Then GO DO THEM! The key is doing the procedures right way and avoid the “just one more thing” scenario.

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

What Does a Good Marriage Look Like?

A client of mine was considering whether or not to continue in a long-term relationship that had some problems. I suggested that she think a bit about what would be the elements of a truly great marriage; then we could talk about what it would take for her and this man to develop such a relationship.

She startled me with her response. With a puzzled look, she said, “I have no idea what a good marriage would look like.”

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In each generation, the number of children raised by two parents — let alone parents in a unified marriage — has been decreasing. When my daughter went away to a solid Christian college, most of her dorm friends were envious that she had two parents who were still married to one another, and happily to boot. More and more young people are growing up in a divorce-crumbled home.

Those whose parents have had a pretty solid relationship can observe and learn from them. Even beyond that,  they can develop good gut instincts about whether a prospective spouse will be a good fit for them and able to be a good help-mate. But the young man or woman who hasn’t ever lived with a culture of mutual love, respect, and responsibility can be adrift with no idea that it’s possible to avoid replicating their family pattern.

So, I took the question of “What Makes a Great Marriage?” — to that impressive authority, My Friends On Facebook. I received plenty of good suggestions, including:

  • Mutual respect. That name-calling thing is a no-no. Words can be apologized for, but are rarely forgotten.
  • -Roz Dieterich, LMSW

  • Make it a point to learn what makes your spouse feel loved. Then do those things. Let your spouse know explicitly what helps you feel loved.
  • Offer one another unconditional regard.
  • Make a commitment to work things through. Don’t keep an unspoken “Plan B” in the background of your mind. Decide together that divorce will not be an option.
  • You can only change yourself. Don’t get in a long-term committed relationship with someone who has current behaviors (or indications of future behavior) that are unacceptable to you.
  • Get good solid counseling together before you commit. It will help you start out with a good foundation to build on.
  • Consider how, as a couple, you recover from a serious disagreement. Can you lay down your own agenda to offer and receive forgiveness? Or do you just let it simmer down and then go on without settling the issue, which can lead to problems later?

To this, I can add the following:  Talk to one another, out loud and not in the middle of a video, about what you want your marriage to be like. How interdependent do you think a marriage should be? Are you ready to let go of your own preferences sometimes for the sake of the relationship? What about rearing children – how did it go in your family and how do you feel about doing it the same way? Do you share common spiritual beliefs and their level of  importance? Read some books on marriage and talk about what seems to be common to most good relationships.

You would do your homework if you were going to buy a car, build a house, or go on a long vacation. The stakes are much bigger here. Don’t let wishful thinking cloud your vision. A marriage, at its best, is an absolutely wonderful thing. Don’t settle for less.

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Crossroads Counseling PLLC   2018