Putting Out The Fire–How To Calm The Alarm System in Your Brain and Overcome Anxiety

 

Anxiety is a common experience, we all feel stressed, worried and anxious. But The Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that it was never God’s intention that we would be anxious. 

In fact, the first anxiety attack occurred immediately after the Fall, when Adam and Eve felt separated from God and each other…and hid. Interestingly, brain scientists tell us that anxiety isn’t caused so much by problems as it is rooted in a sense of disconnection.

That’s right! Even when we’re going through hard times, if we feel securely attached to the people around us, our brains produce chemicals that help us stay calm. By contrast, even when we aren’t facing problems, if we struggle to feel connected to others, or if our connection to others is being threatened in some way our brain produces chemicals that make us feel anxious. Anxiety is meant to be a message that says, “Go find safe, healthy people to support and help you!” TOB and brain science remind us that the key to peace is seeking union with God and cultivating the community of love God has placed around us.

When we are feeling anxious it can be difficult to make the choice to connect with God and others. Here are a few practical ways to cultivate connection and conquer anxiety:

1.  Know That Feelings are a Choice–We often feel as if feelings are something that happen to us.  And they are, but we don’t have to stay stuck in the emotions that overtake us.  We can chose to take actions that will help us feel better, stronger, calmer, and more hopeful. No, your emotions can’t turn on a dime. You can’t make yourself super-happy if you’re feeling sad, or perfectly peaceful if you’re feeling anxious. But by challenging the false messages that run through our minds, we can turn sadness into hope, anxiety into resolve and powerlessness into purposefulness. Instead of giving into the thought that, “there is nothing I can do,” we can remind ourselves that, “Even a small change can make a big difference.” Instead of saying, “No one cares about me,” we can remind ourselves to reach out to the people in our lives honestly and give them a chance to be there for us. Instead of saying, “This situation is hopeless,” we can remind ourselves that with God, all things are possible, and begin to ask him what changes we can make that will give him glory.

The psychologist, Viktor Frankl, lived in the Concentration Camps during WWII. He fought against hopeless and anxiety himself and also studies those fellow inmates who persevered despite their circumstances. Here is what he had to say:

 Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

 No matter how powerless or anxious you feel, don’t give up your freedom to choose to respond to your circumstances in a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous manner that leads to strength, power, grace and freedom.

2.  Reach Out–When you are feeling anxious, powerless, or overwhelmed, that can be a sign that you are trying to handle too much on your own. Challenge yourself to reach out to God and the other people in your life–especially if you feel they won’t understand. Make it your job to make them understand or find other people who will. Remember God’s words in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were created for community. If you’re feeling low–even if you don’t want to be around others–do everything you can to make yourself connect with the people in your life and leave yourself open to other’s efforts to connect with you. Our minds are literally wired to feel better and more positive when we feel connected. Making the effort to reach out to others for help, for support, or even just a distraction, will trigger your social brain to start producing feel-good chemicals that will help boost your mood overall. Work with the design of your body to increase your sense of peace, strength and confidence. Reach out to God and others and let the love that is there for you fill all those dark corners of your heart.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for. Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it. Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through. In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different. God loves you. He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into the latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace.  The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

If you would like support in overcoming anxiety, reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com

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Quick Links and Resources:

Pastoral Tele-Counselling Services 

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

“I Can’t Believe You Said That!”  How To Respond When Words Hurt

Sharp words can cut deep. Sometimes when others say hurtful things to us, we can feel so hurt or be so caught off guard in the moment that we don’t know how to respond. Why are words so powerful and how do we respond effectively in these difficult moments?

The Theology of The Body reminds us of the power of words by pointing us back to Genesis and how God created the world. Specifically, God spoke the world into being. Words have creative power, and God shares that power with us in the hopes that we will use it to build each other up and be co-creators with him as we work to cooperate with his grace and encourage each other to be the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were created to be. But we can also use those words to destroy each other and we often do.

As Christians, we are called to use words carefully; to have a well-trained tongue. That involves both making sure we are using words to build others up and setting appropriate boundaries when someone we are in relationship with is using words destructively. Good boundaries begin trying to explain what are and what aren’t healthy ways to engage you. But if that fails, setting good boundaries means trimming back the relationship to the point where you can still feel safe if the other person is going to continue to act as they have been. Sometimes figuring out what that looks like can be difficult, and we need to seek to figure out what that looks like in practice. But as long as our goal is to work for our good, the other person’s good, and the good of our relationships, it is never wrong to set a boundary to encourage healthier and holier interactions.

Although setting boundaries is healthy, it can certainly be difficult. Here are a few practical steps to setting effective boundaries:

1.  Be Confident And Be Clear–No one ever deserves to be spoken to disrespectfully or hurtfully. Even if the other person accuses you of doing something that they found hurtful or offensive, no matter what you may or may not have said or done, you don’t deserve to be spoken to cruelly or disrespectfully. Be clear about this and be confident in your right to insist that, while you are willing to listen to anything the other person wants to say, you cannot listen to anything that is said in a cruel or hurtful manner. Being clear about this doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits the other person and your ability to address whatever the problem might be. If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, it deserves to be discussed respectfully and effectively. Be confident and clear about the need to insist that “respect is the price of admission” to any conversation a person may want to have with you.

2.  Use Do-Over’s--If you feel attacked in a conversation, resist the temptation to just lash out or shut the conversation down completely. Instead, assume that, given the chance, the other person will be able to say what they are trying to say respectfully.  Give them that chance by asking for a do-over. Say something like, “I’m feeling really attacked right now. I want to hear what you’re trying to say, but I need you to be less aggressive about it. Tell me again what you’re trying to say.” Often, when we hold up a mirror like this, the other person will appreciate the opportunity to see how they are coming across and adjust their behavior. Do-overs allow you to reset the conversation and move forward in a more respectful and productive way.

3. Don’t Feed the Troll–If someone is saying cruel or disrespectful things to you, don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to talk them out of it. Don’t argue back. Any attempt to argue someone out of their unkind view of you will inevitably backfire as the conversation will begin going in circles with new accusations being hurled and as the previous defenses are overcome. The best thing to do in this situation? Don’t feed the troll. As before, stop the conversation and give the person as chance to do a do-over. If that fails, simply say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. If there’s something you’d like to talk through when you’re feeling a little less angry I’m happy to hear whatever you have to say, but I can’t talk about this with you this way.” Then be done. If you have to say anything, simply repeat that formula, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. I’d love to talk to you when you’re in a different place, but I can’t do it like this.” Trolls don’t like to eat broken records. If that’s all you serve them, they’ll look for other places to feed.

Explore more resources for setting healthy boundaries at CatholicCounselors.com

 

Quick Links and Resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations With Your Adult Sons & Daughters

How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love

Pastoral Tele-Counseling Services

Spiritual Life Coaching

Feeling Stuck—Healthy and Holy Ways To Make Effective Change

Sometimes, when we get caught up in certain challenges in our life or relationships, it can seem like nothing is  ever going to change. Maybe we feel trapped and powerless or maybe we know what to do, we just don’t know where to start. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, when we look at our life, what we see isn’t what we get. At the beginning of time, God created us to live abundant, intimate, joyful, healthy and holy lives. Although sin entered the world and frustrated that plan, God is not defeated! Everyday,  through His grace, God is helping us rebuild the remarkable, grace-filled lives he created us to live. Of course, that doesn’t happen on its own. When we experience difficulties in making changes in our life or relationships, the first thing we need to do is to bring that situation to God–without ceasing. Everyday, we have to ask God to teach us how He wants us to respond to the challenge we’re facing–step by step. When responding to a frustrating situation, no matter how long we’ve been working on it, we have to cultivate the mindset that we don’t know anything– especially when we think we do. Instead, we need to ask God to teach us as if we were children who were experiencing the situation for the first time. That’s the “poverty of spirit” that allows God to lead us to the changes he wants to make in our lives.

Second, we need to get to work. As we continue to pray as if we need to be taught–from the ground up–how to respond to each step of the problems we’re trying to solve, we need to constantly ask ourselves, how could I glorify God in this moment? How could I work for the ultimate good of the person in front of me? What would it mean for me to be my best self in this moment–especially when my plans are being frustrated?

Like a toddler learning to walk, even when we are uncertain, we need to take our first steps. We can learn from Saint Francis of Assisi’s example when he asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do? Show me what you want me to do with my life.” And he heard the Lord answer, “Francis, go and rebuild my church which, as you see, is falling down.” That was all Saint Francis heard. That was all he needed to hear before he sprung into action. It took a bit longer, however, to realize that Jesus wasn’t asking him to physically rebuild San Damiano as well as a few other rundown churches near Assisi. He did that, of course, but it gradually dawned on him that his vocation was to rebuild the church, the human institution that was perilously close to falling apart. Saint Francis didn’t wait until he was one hundred percent certain of his next steps, he prayed and he took action, and because of that, God was able to guide his steps and lead him down the bath He needed him to go. 

When we adopt this approach—just as Saint Francis did—we become God’s little children, reaching out for his hand, asking him to teach us how to live the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled lives we were created for.

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Quick Links and Resources:

The Life God Wants You To Have 

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

Can You Get More Out Of Your Personal Life? (Quiz)

Pastoral Tele-counseling Services 

The Life God Wants You To Have–Navigating Change and Achieving Your Goals

Setting new goals or navigating change can feel overwhelming. Sometimes we can even feel as though we’ve failed before we’ve even started. But it doesn’t have to be this way! 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, when we look at our life, what we see isn’t what we get. In the beginning, we were created for a more abundant, intimate, joyful, and holy life. More importantly, through God’s grace, we are destined to live a more abundant, intimate, joyful, and holy life again. Of course, that doesn’t happen on its own. First, we need to be in constant prayer, asking God to teach us how He wants us to respond to every moment of the day. We have to cultivate the mindset that we don’t know anything–especially when we think we do. We need to ask God to teach us how to live each moment of every day as if it’s the first time we are experiencing it. That is the “poverty of spirit” that allows God to lead us to the changes he wants to make in our lives.

Second, we need to get to work. As we continue to pray as if we need to be taught–from the ground up–how to respond to each moment in the day, we need to constantly ask ourselves, how could I glorify God in this moment? How could work for the ultimate good of the person in front of me? What would it mean for me to be my best self in this moment–especially when my plans are being frustrated? Like a toddler learning to walk, when we adopt this approach, we become God’s little children, reaching out for his hand, asking him to teach us how to live the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled lives we were created for.

Here are three simple steps for navigating change and achieving your goals:

1.Set Positive Goals–New research by Florida State University shows that one of the most important factors in making successful change is how positively we frame our goal. For instance, the implied criticism behind the negative goal,  “I want to lose weight” causes us to feel undermined right from the start. A better goal would be something like, “I feel good when I exercise and eat a little lighter. I want to do that more often.” Another example? “I feel good–and my kids behave better–when I correct them in more loving and gentle ways. I am going to do more of that.”  Setting a positive goal reminds you of the good feelings that accompany sticking to your resolutions and pull you toward success.

2.  Engage Grace–When you start your day, bring your goal to God. Think of times throughout the day when it might be difficult for you to remember to follow through with the changes you’d like to make. Think about how you will cooperate with God’s grace to make those situations a success. Ask God for the grace to use these challenging moments as opportunities to grow into the person he wants you to be. Remember what St Thomas Aquinas taught—Grace builds on nature. Bring the changes you are attempting to make in your life or relationships back to God and ask him for the grace to make up for whatever you might lack if left to your own own devices.

3. Make A Shopping List–New changes often require new skills, resources, and support. Before you set out to make a change, take some time to make a list of the resources and support you might need to succeed. What books might help give you new insights or skills? What people can support you? What level of support do you need? Is it enough to find a person to be an accountability partner? Do you need to find someone who will work on the goal with you? Or do you need more professional support of some kind? Don’t shame yourself out of getting the support you need by telling yourself that you should be able to do it on your own with the resources you have. Ask yourself what level of support you would need to guarantee success, then start making arrangements to get that level of support.  The Theology of The Body reminds us that it’s not good for people to try to “go it alone.”  We were made to need others to succeed.  Cultivate the humility that true success requires and allow others to be part of the process

 

Quick Links and Resources:

The Life God Wants You To Have (Book)

What Does God Want Me to Do? (Video)

Tele-counseling

Saint Sebastian Center for Performance Excellence

Spiritual Life Coaching

Dealing with Disrespect

When we are disrespected by others, it’s easy to take that disrespect personally and to feel powerless in knowing how to cultivate a respectful relationship dynamic. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, because we are created in the image and likeness of God, we have a right to expect to be loved and respected. In his book, Love and Responsibility, St John Paul put forth what he called “the personalistic norm.” The personalistic norm means that every human being has a right be treated like a person, not a thing. Each person has a God-given right to be loved and respected–no matter what. The reason we feel shocked when we are treated poorly is that God built into each person a sense of this divinely given right to be treated as his sons and daughters. We don’t claim that dignity on our own. God gave it to us as his gift.

Likewise, when we’re treated in a manner that offends our dignity as persons, we have a similarly God-given right to address that offense–as long as we remember that the person who offended us has the right to be treated like a person too. To do this effectively, we need to understand the difference between setting boundaries and being defensive.When we’re defensive, we forget that the offender is a person. We get our back up and we lash out, “How dare you do that to me you jerk!” It’s an understandable–but still inappropriate– reaction. Setting a graceful boundary in the face of disrespect means not tolerating the disrespect while also not taking it personally. Instead of lashing out, we can say something like, “I can tell your frustrated, but please don’t treat me like your enemy. How can we deal with this together?”

Let’s take a look at some practical steps for dealing with disrespect:

1. Pause and Pray–When you are offended or hurt by someone, resist the temptation to react.  Take a moment to pause and pray. Ask yourself, “What are you upset about, specifically?” In other words, rather than reacting to what the other person says or does, ask yourself what it means to you that they treated you that way. For instance, instead of saying, “How dare you talk to me that way!” Say, “When you talk to me that way, it feels really disrespectful. Could you say that again?” Pausing and praying allows you to identify and address the actual offense, instead of adding more fuel to the fire.

2. Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself–Too many people buy into the lie that they “shouldn’t have” to tell other people that they are feeling were hurt because they “should just know.” People are not mind-readers. If someone has hurt you, tell them, clearly and directly what the problem is, and what you need them to do to correct it. For instance, if someone ignores a request you’ve made in the hopes you’ll just forget about it, you might say, “I was really hurt that you chose to ignore me and not do the thing I asked. I need you to tell me, specifically, when and how you’re going to follow through.” Don’t accept vague, non-answers. It’s ok to press for a specific how and when. Holding someone accountable for fulfilling their promises is not being a “pest” or a “nag,” it is simply respecting Jesus’ admonition that yes should mean yes and no should mean no. Don’t say you “shouldn’t” have to hold others accountable. Pray for the grace and courage you need to teach others to treat you with the dignity worthy of a son or daughter of God.

3. Follow Words with Actions–Sometimes people aren’t willing to respond to your concerns no matter how clear you are about your needs. If your attempts to speak up have failed, more words will not help. You’ll need to have a back-up plan to address the problem unilaterally. In this case, setting boundaries means finding ways to scale back the relationship because the person is demonstrating that they can’t be trusted with the level of intimacy that you have attempted to allow them to have. This means asking yourself, “In what contexts or interactions is this person able to treat me appropriately?” and then limiting your relationship to those types of interactions. If and when the other person complains about the actions you’ve taken, say, “I’d love to get back to normal, but first, we really need to work through X first.” As long as your intention is to work for the good of the relationship, you have every right to scale the relationship back to the point that it is healthy and build out from there.

If you would like more direct support for dealing with disrespect, reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com/Services. 

 

Quick Links:

How To Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love

 

Got Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!


Recognizing The 4 Stages of Communication Breakdown (Video)

 

 

When Emotions Run High—Helpful Tips for Conquering Anxiety

Anxiety is not God’s will for us.  Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and themselves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious. When they were confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency after being separated from God, they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way? There are certainly plenty of things to be concerned about, but we only become worried about those things when we allow those concerns to separate us from God’s love and our ability to use the gifts and support God has given us to make concrete plans to address those concerns gracefully.

The Theology of The Body teaches us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  t’s fine to be concerned about things. That’s what enables us to identify a problem, bring it to God, gather our resources and support, and make a concrete plan to address the concern. But that’s different from anxiety, which has us focus so exclusively on the problem that it makes us incapable of identifying the actual problem, bringing it to God, gathering our resources, and making a plan. We just allow ourselves to spin out. That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us “Be Not Afraid.” He wasn’t denying the myriad concerns that affect our lives. He was saying that with God’s grace, we have the power to respond to those concerns in a spirit of love and grace rather than a spirit of fear. Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater.  In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”

1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face.  Yes, these are real things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves. Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing. If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems. Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations? How will I pace myself? How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?” Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!” It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety. Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed.  The most important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

2.  Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!” Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution, but merely the next step.What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources, and enlists more support? If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek. Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once. Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success. The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for. Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it. Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through. In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different. God loves you. He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace. The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

For more support overcoming anxiety, check out the resources available at CatholicCounselors.com.

 

Quick links and resources:

Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety

The Life God Wants You To Have: Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail

Prayers: St Michael Prayer (Video)

Where is God In Suffering?

By Dr. Greg Popcak

 

We all hurt. Suffering is an inescapable part of life. But that doesn’t make our pain any easier to bear, especially when facing the kind of senseless violence that occurred at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX, where a lone, teenage shooter killed 2 teachers and 19 children.

Where is God in this? How do we find him?  Why did he “let” this happen?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, and the pain, anger, and frustration we feel in the face of evil is normal and natural.  The first thing we need to do is resist the temptation to allow our pain to make us respond in pain. Instead, we need to bring our pain to God and ask him to teach us how to respond to it in a way that will glorify him, help us be our best selves, and work for the good of all the people around us.

That said, a lot of the frustration, pain, and confusion we feel in the face of suffering is based on the grossly false assumption that things are supposed to work all the time, and that God has somehow dropped the ball when things aren’t working as we think they should. But here’s the truth: There’s nothing about the Christian view of the world that suggests this assumption is correct.

Yes, in the beginning, before the Fall, God ordained creation to exist in perfect balance. But as the story goes, this balance was catastrophically demolished when Adam and Eve committed the first sin. Because of this, in the Christian worldview, everything is actually supposed to be awful all the time. Original sin made the world a warzone, and misery is meant to be our natural state of being. If anything else exists — if there is anything good in this world at all — it is only because God is unfathomably merciful and, despite our ongoing efforts to keep wrecking everything, he is intent on creating order out of the chaos, peace out of the turmoil, joy out of the misery, life out of death. “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rv 21:5). “Good” is God’s miraculous, merciful response to suffering.

The fact that we take for granted how good things usually are and presumptuously assume that they should always be this good is a testament to how astoundingly merciful God actually is. It is proof of what I call “the mystery of good” — that is, the mystery of how (and why) God literally moves heaven and earth every single moment of every day to care for us, provide for us and tend to our wounds despite the fact that we are living in a warzone of our own making, a warzone he never intended for us to live in, and that he is doing everything he can to deliver us from, including sending his own Son to lead us through the minefields and back to the green pastures where he gives us repose (cf., Ps 23).

Although it can be tremendously hard to find God when we’re in pain, we discover that God is imminently, superabundantly, omnipresent in our experience of suffering.

  • Imminent: God is immediately present in our pain. He doesn’t hesitate to respond to us. Before we even call on him, he is running to tend to our wounds (cf., Ps 139:4).

 

  • Superabundant: No matter the depth of our pain, no matter the horrific nature of our suffering, God’s grace is greater. If we ask for his grace, God will enable us to respond to our suffering in ways that are heroic, healing and heralding of the good news that Christ has conquered and we can be victorious through his grace.

 

  • Omnipresent: Nothing can separate us from his presence. No suffering can keep him from us. He stands ready to guide every step we take as we respond to our suffering. If we ask his help and trust his grace, he will lead us through every trial.

It isn’t that God is present when we aren’t suffering and absent when we are. God is already imminently and superabundantly omnipresent in very first moments of our experience of suffering. I remind my clients that God’s presence in our pain is evidenced in our capacity to display any of the following four supernatural abilities.

    1. The knowledge that there should be more than this.
    2. The belief that I could respond in a way that would allow me to make more of this.
    3. The drive to be whole again in spite of this.
    4. The will to heal and grow stronger somehow in the face of this.

None of these abilities come naturally to us. The natural human response to suffering is to run until we can’t run anymore and then give up and die. If you’re inspired to do any of the above four things in the face of your pain, it’s because God is already moving in you, saying, “Do not fear: I am with you … I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Is 41:10).

When you find yourself in pain, when you’re forced to stare evil in the face, call to the Lord. Then take his hand and let him lead you to the resurrection that comes after this cross.

I-Oughta-Biography — Overcoming The Shoulds In Our Life

“I should be better at this,” “I shouldn’t have to deal with this problem anymore,” “I should just get it together…” 

Do these “shoulds” sound familiar? We have a tendency to be so hard on ourselves. We fall into the “should” mindset, making ourselves feel guiltier or more powerless about the fact that we’re not living up to the perceived “shoulds.” 

The Theology of The Body, however, reminds us that although God has a plan for our lives, we can’t find it by beating ourselves up or by torturing ourselves with a constant list of what we should or shouldn’t be doing–or should have done. Living in the “shoulds” is just another way of living in a state of reactivity that closes us off to being able to hear God’s voice or discern his plan for our lives. Instead of living reactively in the shoulds, the Theology of The Body directs us towards the need to cultivate a spirit of receptivity.

When we feel disappointed,  confused, or caught up in the “shoulds” the first thing we need to do is bring that feeling to God. Openly and honestly sharing the thoughts that are going on in your mind through prayer. Next, instead of trying to puzzle out what his answer would be, we need to spend time allowing him to love us, reminding ourselves of all the ways he has shown his love for us before, praising him for all the ways he has been present to us, and thanking him for the little blessings of that day. Then, confident that we don’t have to earn God’s love by doing all the right things and having all the right answers, we need to be still and listen to the ways God is asking us to use our gifts to make a positive difference in our circumstances, to make our relationships stronger and healthier, and see all the things that happen to us as an invitation to do something small to be a little more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we’re meant to be.

One reason we fall into this “should” mindset is due to the fact that our stress level gets too high for our thinking brain—our cortex—to function effectively. When this occurs, we become significantly more reactive than receptive, ultimately functioning from our limbic system—the emotional reactions part of our brain. 

Taking our thoughts and concerns to God, resting in His love, and using our gifts to take action in a positive way allows us to lower our stress level, bring our thinking brain back on line, and find our power in the present moment. 

Focusing on the “shoulds” causes us to live in either the past or the future—two places where we have no control or power. Focusing on our present moment and what we can do in the here and now with God’s loving guidance allows us to take control over our situation in a healthy and positive way. 

The more we can take this receptive approach to life, the clearer we can be about what God wants us to do, and what choices will lead us to the abundant life we all long for.

Ash Wednesday and Our Journey To Forgiveness

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our need for reconciliation with God and marks the beginning of our Lenten journey. 

Saint John Paul II saw mercy and the Theology of The Body as going hand in hand. The Theology of the Body recognizes that God has incredibly high expectations for us and our relationships, but he knows that we will inevitably stumble and fall along the way. The only way we can hope to achieve the heights we’re destined for is by leaning into God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness–and by sharing that same mercy and forgiveness with each other.

At the same time, forgiveness doesn’t require us to pretend that an offense didn’t occur or that things are better than they actually are. In fact, the Catechism (2043) says, “​​ It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense.” The Theology of The Body reminds us that we are created for communion with others, which means that we have to be willing to work to face the offenses we commit against each other honestly and courageously and then willingly work together to actually heal the damage that’s been done to the body of Christ. True communion can’t be built if we aren’t honest with each other about the damage our hurtful actions have caused and honest about the work that needs to be done to actually heal those wounds. The work involved in forgiveness and reconciliation is good work, but it’s also hard and complicated work. It’s ok to take the time that is necessary to do it right.

Let’s look at three stepping stones on the path to forgiveness:

1. Know What Forgiveness Is–St. Augustine said that forgiveness is surrendering our desire for revenge. It doesn’t mean pretending everything is ok. It doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to discuss the situation further. It doesn’t mean you can’t hold the other person accountable for what they did. It just means that you are refusing to hurt them for having hurt you. We forgive to make reconciliation possible. If a person says, “I’m sorry” without being willing to do the work of healing the hurts they caused, they are lying. Despite what some of us have been taught, “I’m sorry” are not “magic words” that make the pain go away. “I’m sorry” isn’t the end of the process. It’s just another way of saying, “I’m ready to begin the work of reconciling with you.”

2. Know What Letting Go Means–Sometimes we say we’ve forgiven someone, but we have a hard time letting go of the hurt. Many times we think that means we haven’t really forgiven.  More likely, it means that the injury hasn’t been fully attended to. Bring your pain to God in prayer and ask him to help you figure out what you still need from the other person to heal. Then go to the person who hurt you and, respectfully, tell them what you need. Don’t get caught up in thinking that the past is the past.  If you’re hurting in the present, the injury needs to be dealt with in the present. “Letting go” is what happens when you and the other person have done what God needs you both to do to heal the wound. Until then, stay committed to the process of healing.

3. When It’s Complicated–Sometimes a wound doesn’t heal on its own and you need to seek a doctor’s help. In the same way, while most emotional wounds will heal with time, some can’t.  These can become infected with bitterness. Bitterness is the infection that results when an emotional wound is not properly attended to. If you are having a hard time healing an emotional wound either on your own or with the person who hurt you, don’t let bitterness grow in you.  Seek professional help from a faithful counselor who can help you discern the best ways to heal your hurt and restore peace to your heart.

If you would like to seek professional support on your journey to facilitating forgiveness, we’re here to help. Reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com

Remodeling Your Home-Life This Advent

Advent is a time for preparation, and with preparation, the need for change is inevitable. Sometimes these changes are bigger, sometimes these changes are smaller, but all of the changes help us to become more of the people—more of the family—that God created us to be. 

Because of this, Advent is a great time to check in with our family and home lives to evaluate how we’re doing, and what we might need to do to grow closer to each other and to God. 

Here are a few simple ways to do just that: 

Check in with the Architect--It’s important, everyday, to sit down with your spouse and kids and ask God, the architect of your domestic church, what He wants you to be focusing on as a family.  When you first wake up, before you do anything else, get everyone together briefly to pray a morning offering for your household. Say something like, “Lord, we give you our family.  Help us both to be the people you want us to be for each other. Help us to look for little ways to love each other better, to serve each other better, and to understand each other better, so that we can fill each other’s hearts with your love and be better witnesses to your love in the world. AMEN” Use your own words, but keep it simple and personal. Having the home-life God wants you to have begins with asking him–everyday–what little “home improvement projects” he would like you to take on today. God has a plan for your family. Discover that plan by meeting with God each morning to ask him how you can cooperate with it.

Keep Up with the Little Projects–Some people say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” But that often translates into “Stuff everything down until I can’t take it anymore and eventually blow up.”  It’s a good idea to not make proverbial mountains out of molehills, but refusing to sweat the small stuff doesn’t mean “don’t talk about anything.” Happy, godly households are created by kindly and patiently addressing all the little missteps, miscommunications, and missed opportunities while they’re still little! How can you do that effectively? Don’t fight. Don’t criticize. Just say, “Hey, when you did thus and such, it was a little frustrating. How do you think we could handle that better?” You can use this pattern for anything. Briefly describe the problem and how it made you feel, ask for their ideas on how to handle it better, then move on. Keeping up with the little projects allows you to do a little home improvement every day instead of waiting to start construction until the ceiling caves in.

Small Things Make a Big Difference–The healthiest, and happiest families make a point of consciously looking for little ways to make each other’s day easier or more pleasant. They are actively on the lookout for that chore they can help with or that thoughtful thing they can do that would lighten other family member’s load. But this doesn’t happen naturally. Everyday, model this by asking your kids what they might need from you to have a more pleasant day, but don’t stop there! Teach your children to ask you what they can do for you. At dinnertime, make a point of regularly asking, “What did someone in the family do for you that you especially appreciated today?” Then invite the kids to talk about the little things they might be struggling with at school or home and discuss how you can pull together as a team to support each other through these challenges. Take Pope Francis’ advice to families to heart and make a habit of being intentional about cultivating the kindness and caretaking that will make your house a truly grace-filled home.

Looking for more ways to remodel your home-life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com or join our discussion on Facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship!