When Your Child Stops Believing

For most Catholic parents, nothing’s more important than raising our kids to be faithful, godly adults. 

Sadly, a study by CARA at Georgetown found that 89% of people who eventually left the Church said they’d actually lost their faith between the ages of 10 and 13. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to help your kids negotiate their doubts.

When your child expresses doubts about God, begin by thanking them for trusting you, and telling them you’re proud of them.  Why?  Because doubts are a natural part of mature faith development.  

In fact, the reason so many kids lose their faith between 10 and 13 is that they’re transitioning from the “Story and Structure Stage” of faith–that focuses on learning rules, rituals, and stories–to the “Relationship and Mission Stage” where kids need to learn to apply their faith to real life problems.  

This transition comes with lots of questions.  Without patient guidance, kids can start thinking of faith as just a bunch of rules, rituals, and stories that have no real practical bearing on their world.

After you’ve diffused things, start asking questions. Don’t grill them.  Just explain that you’d like to understand what’s going on. In particular, ask if they’re having a hard time applying their faith to some challenge they’re facing.  Nine times out of 10, teens’ faith crises are either caused by difficulties with reconciling their faith with real-life problems, or being led to believe that their faith is an obstacle to having meaningful relationships and finding their place in the world.  

Of course, another reason kids have doubts about God is that they may have never actually MET him!  Going to church isn’t enough. Make sure that you’re praying daily as a family, and when you do, make sure you’re not just saying words at God, but actually modeling how to talk to him as the person who knows you best and loves you most. 

Finally, help your kids express their doubts directly to God. Teach them to pray, “Lord, I’m having a hard time believing in you. Please show me that you are real.”  

For more ideas on how to help your kids through faith struggles, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“…do not be terrified; for such things must happen first”

 
These words from Jesus, spoken in the midst of truly unsettling, apocalyptic-seeming predictions, are at once calming and baffling. He tells us all about the many awful things that will happen throughout human history – war, betrayal, natural disaster, the destruction of those things which our societies hold most sacred – and then basically tells us that we should relax anyway. Is He telling us merely to trust Him? Is He just insensitive to our plight?
I think it goes deeper than either option. In actuality, Jesus wants us to focus on the right things, regardless of what else is going on. Remember, he’s speaking to an audience ringing their hands over whether or not the liturgical salad fork is in the right spot. This is a people easily distracted by the pettiness of life, and Jesus is basically saying, “buckle up, fam. If this stresses you out, it’s gonna get a lot worse.”
But Jesus isn’t just trying to scare us straight, so to speak. What Jesus wants us to focus on instead, it seems, is the person right in front of us. How many of us, like the Lord’s audience in this Gospel, fret over trivial things while forgetting about what matters right now? We ask, “What if my kid doesn’t turn out right?” But Jesus asks, “How does your kid need to be shown love right now?” We ask, “What if I never get what I need from my spouse?” He asks, “But how can you show more love to your spouse right now?” We ask, “Will I be stuck in this dead end job forever?” He asks, “How can you use your dead end job to love somebody right in this moment?” To Jesus, it doesn’t matter what’s on the news or what’s falling from the sky or even what evil lies in your neighbor’s heart. What matters to Jesus is loving right now.
His words remind me of my favorite line from The Avengers“Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.” Or my favorite REM song: ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)’. In a world where every message from the radio, the TV, and even unfortunately the pulpit tells us to worry about something that’s going to supposedly kill us sometime over the next 2-50 years, let’s listen to Jesus instead and ask ourselves: how can I love the person right next to me just a little better right in this moment?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

The Comfort Zone

The comfort zone. We all have one. We believe our comfort zone makes us happy, keeps us safe, and helps us maintain our lives. But new research shows that might not be true.

Whether it comes to relationships, our work lives, our friends, or our personal lives, we all have our comfort zone—our set way of doing things—that we typically prefer to stay in. But a new study demonstrates the benefits of going outside of our comfort zone and how doing this actually makes us happier.

Researchers at the Universe of California—Riverside asked 123 participants who identify as introverts to push the boundaries of their willingness to engage with others for one week, while participants in a control group were asked to maintain their usual boundaries and act as they typically behave. At the end of the study, those who pushed their boundaries and went outside of their comfort zone reported having more pleasant experiences and being happier throughout the week. 

Lyubomirsky, a UCR psychologist and co-author of the study stated, “The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that [doing so] improves well-being.”

So how do we increase our happiness and successfully expand our comfort zones?

Exercise your strengths—What are the things that you’re good at? Make a list of your strengths and then choose one each day to practice in some way. Generous? Pay for the coffee for the person behind you in line! Good listener? Take an extra minute to really ask someone how their day is going. Organized? Clean up that stack of papers that’s sitting on the counter. These are examples of small ways that we can be intentional about going outside of our typical routine and help us be the best version of ourselves in our every day lives!

Ask yourself one, simple question every day—Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do today to make someone’s day better?” Asking ourselves this question sets the intention that we are looking for ways to reach out to others. Does your partner have a favorite snack? Pick it up on the way home from work! Is someone walking through the door behind you with their hands full? Wait that extra second to hold the door for them, smile and greet them as you do so. Do your kids have a favorite game? Put that chore aside for a few minutes and play their favorite game with them! Putting others first and looking for ways to make another’s day better helps us expand our focus from our own comfort zone to the happiness of others.

Focus on your successes—We do a lot in a day. But because we’re so used to doing what we do, we don’t even notice all of the things that we are accomplishing. Because of this, we’re often left feeling drained at the end of the day, too tired to do anything else, but we don’t even REALLY know why. Start writing down the things that you are accomplishing throughout the day. Did the dishes? Write it down. Stayed awake during that boring work meeting? Write it down. Cleaned the bath tub? Write it down! No task is too small. Writing down your success, such as in the form of a “Got-It-Done” list will help you remember all the things you “got done” throughout the day leaving you feeling accomplished and less drained. Focusing on our successes sends the message to our subconscious that we are capable of achieving goals. Sending this message to our brain makes it much easier to change our behavior in other, desired ways. 

For more resources on how to live a happier life visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and be sure to tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

The Resilient Person – Overcoming Burnout

Are you feeling tired? Uninspired? Like there’s too much to do? You’re not alone. These are all typical signs of the very common experience of burnout. But the good news is, you can overcome burnout and build your resilience in your every day life just by making a few simple changes. 

Theology of The Body reminds us that although the world is fallen, God is working through us to build the kingdom or set the world on fire. That rebuilding starts in our lives and our relationships. Sometimes that job can feel too hard, like we can’t do it on our own, and of course we can’t. But there are a few tips we can draw from the Theology of the Body to persevere even when we feel burned out. First we need to keep our eyes, not on what’s in front of us, but rather on how God wants to work through us to make the situation into what he wants it to be. Second, we need to remember that it isn’t all up to us. We need to keep bringing the situation to God and asking him to help us discern the next small step. Third, we need to lean into virtue. We need to prayerfully ask, “What are the virtues or strengths we need to apply to this situation to glorify God in our response?” Fourth, we need to look at failure–not as a closed door–but as feedback that we bring back to prayer and then leads us back thought these steps until we find the solution. If we can work this process, we can fulfill the promise that St Paul makes in Romans 8:28 that to those who love God, all things work to the good.

Here are three, small, concrete changes that will help you overcome burnout and build your resilience:

1.  Center Yourself– When you’re struggling to recover from a setback or disappointment, before doing anything else, the first step has to be centering yourself.  First, bring the situation to God, pray, “Lord, help me rest in you, trust in your grace, and gather the resources and support I need to make a plan and see this through.”  Then refocus on yourself on a goal–any goal–that represents the next small step you can take.  You’ll feel less like running away if you can identify the next step forward and focus on gathering the resources to help you take that next step.

2.  Get Out of the Tunnel–We often find it hard to bounce back from disappointments because tunnel vision causes us to get stuck trying to find the ONE BIG THING we can do to solve this problem ONCE & FOR ALL.  Especially with more complicated situations, there is rarely one thing you can do to make the problem disappear. Instead, concentrate on the next small thing you can do to EITHER address the problem OR insulate yourself from the problem OR BOTH.  Focusing on small steps you can take in several areas– instead of searching for ultimate answers to the one big question–allows you to come out of the tunnel and begin to see new options on the horizon.

3. Make A “Got It Done” List–We all know about To-Do lists but what about making a “Got it Done” list?  Sometimes we struggle with bouncing back from a problem or setbacks because we feel like we’re  just not up to the challenge.  You can combat these feelings by intentionally calling to mind–and better yet, writing down–all the PAST times in your life when you were sure you weren’t up to a challenge but, through God’s grace and your good efforts, you managed to succeed.  Making a “Got It Done List: will help you remember that you have conquered many difficult situations before and remind you that between you and God, there is nothing you can’t handle moving forward.

For more on overcoming burnout and effectively handling the stress in your life, check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Resolving Repetitive Arguments

Often we feel as though we’re just going in circles, having the same arguments over and over. So how do we break the cycle and start actually resolving problems or situations?

Studies show that happy couples tend to be more solution-focused in general, and focus on spending most of their energy addressing more solvable problems. They’re aware of larger issues in the relationship but they tend to hold off on addressing these until they’ve built up enough confidence/rapport by handling the little things well.  Other couples tend to have a more emotionally-based approach that puts every issue—big and small—on an equal footing.  They are less successful at solving anything, in part because their arguments are more emotional and many of the issues they choose to focus on can’t be easily addressed, especially when there isn’t good rapport.

In the beginning, God created each of us to see the world a little differently so that, working together and using our gifts for each other’s good, we would all attend to different details in a manner that would allow us to create a more holistic solution to any challenge.  But in a fallen world filled with unique and unrepeatable people who see things differently AND don’t always work for each other’s good, there is bound to be  some degree of conflict. Pope St. John Paul the Great reminds us that the only solution to this challenge is love–the willingness to understand what the other person needs to flourish and the willingness to make personal sacrifices to help them achieve achieve those things.  By learning to be loving, ESPECIALLY in conflict, we can discover how to encourage each other through the tension, toward godly solutions, and experience even closer relationships–not just in spite of our differences, but because of those differences.

How can this be done?

Zoom Out–Repetitive arguments tend to be ones that are polarized. People stake out their positions too early in the discussion and then argue back and forth about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you’re having the same fight over and over, zoom out.  Step back from trying to solve the problem and instead, figure out how to EMPATHIZE with the other person’s position. Ask questions that allow you to have genuine sympathy for what they are trying to accomplish.You might ask, “Help me understand how things would be better for you if you got what you were asking for.” OR “What is it you’re hoping will change if we did things your way?”  You don’t have to agree with the other person, but keep asking questions until you truly understand their goal. People who feel truly understood are much more willing to negotiate in good faith.

Build The Solution Together–Repetitive arguments are usually caused because each person feels like they are trying to build something that the other person keeps taking apart–like two children fighting over the same block to build THEIR tower! Build your solution together.  Once you have zoomed out enough to understand what each of you is really trying to accomplish. Ask, the other person, “What solution could you imagine that would allow you to get what you want but still be respectful to my concerns?”  This is powerful question because it is both deferential AND assertive. On the one hand, you are humbly asking their advice. On the other hand, you are insisting that they consider your concern in their solution.  This question sets up the right spirit of honesty and collaboration that allows two former competitors to start building together.

Work on Friending, Not Fighting–The most important thing in problem-solving is NOT solving the problem.  It is taking care of each other through the conflict so that you can feel like two friends working together on the problem instead of two enemies fighting over limited resources. Focus on “Friending” NOT fighting. Tell the other person you appreciate them hanging in there with you, offer to pray together so that you are both open to God’s will, do little things to take care of them during a conflict like offering to get them a drink, or take a break, acknowledging their strengths or the value of their opinions.  The more effective you are at taking care of the other person, the more likely you will be able to break through the tendency toward self-preservation that pervades repetitive arguments.

 

For more on how to resolve repetitive arguments, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! and tune in to More2Life–weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Transmitting The Faith To Our School-Age Children

Teaching our kids how to pray and helping them develop a relationship with God can feel difficult, especially when we have children of different ages. However, helping our children develop in their faith doesn’t have to be a complicated task. 

Knowing how to foster your school-age child’s faith begins with realizing that kids need different spiritual food at different times.

Faith evolves in different stages through early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, and throughout adulthood.  School-age kids occupy what’s called the “Mythic-Literal” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Stories and Rituals Stage”

Throughout middle-childhood, kids’ brains are focused on making sense of the world, figuring out what things mean, and how things work. Rituals and stories are the most important tools kids at this stage use to do that work.

Family rituals, (like regularly recurring times to pray, work, talk, and play together) and parish rituals, (like weekly mass, regular confession, and family involvement in parish activities) are critical for giving your kids a faith-based sense of structure, order, and belonging.  Rituals help kids experience the faith in their bones. Their muscle memory records the activities that create a lifelong sense of belonging to God and his Church.  

In addition to being ritual-hungry, school age kids turn to stories to make sense of the world. Instead of just letting them pick-up passive lessons from the stories they see on tv, movies and social media, make sure you spend time every day actively reading and discussing bible stories, stories of the lives of the saints and others stories that help kids encounter examples of the way our faith can help us make a real, positive difference in the relationships we have with our family, friends, and the world.

School age kids rely on rituals and meaningful stories to help them know who they are, where they come from, and what they are called to be. To feed your school-age kids’ souls, make sure you provide a steady diet of both.

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Authentic Optimism – How Do We Actually Make Our Lives Better?

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to be optimistic in the midst of stressful situations. But often this is due to a misunderstanding of what true optimism really means.

Theology of The Body reminds us that optimism isn’t rooted in wishing our problems away or telling ourselves pretty lies about how things aren’t really as bad as they seem.  TOB explains that our optimism is rooted in the fact that at the beginning of time, God had a plan for the world and that–in spite of sin thwarting that plan in the present–God’s plan will be restored through grace at the end of time.  The fact is, as St Paul reminds us in Rom 8:28 all things work to the good for those who love God.

A study by Boston University School of Medicine found that optimistic people live up to 15% longer and are up to 70% more likely to live to at least age 85.

This study demonstrated that optimism isn’t so much a trait as it is a skill made up of three qualities:

-Goal orientation: Rather than “thinking positively” optimistic people acknowledge that bad things are bad, but they ask. “What can I make of this?”  (c.f. Rom 8:28).

-Gratitude: Optimistic people intentionally recall their blessings, strengths, and skills as a reminder of what they have to work with in responding to life’s challenges.

-Gregariousness: Optimistic people maintain a sense of community and actively work to find ways to be a blessing to others even when they are struggling.

So how do we become more optimistic in our daily lives?

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective.  Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it.  In fact, it’s better if you aren’t.  Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

 

For more on increasing authentic optimism in your life, checkout God Help Me! This Stress is Driving Me Crazyand tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXm 130!

The Road to Recovery: Psychotherapy or Medication—Which Is Right For Me?

Depression is often an ongoing struggle, which can make it difficult to know what approach is best for us to find lasting healing. New research, however, gives us a deeper look into understanding how to treat our depression in a way that does not just lessen our symptoms, but works with and through our depression symptoms to achieve sustainable healing. 

A new study out of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia, shows that psychotherapy should be the first approach for depression treatment, with medication being a secondary option. 

This research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, reveals that individuals ranging from 15-25 who received psychotherapy alone experienced equal improvement in their depression symptoms as their counterparts who received psychotherapy and medication treatment. 

These findings demonstrate the reality of the common misconception that medication treatment for depression should be a first approach. Often it is said or believed that medication should eliminate all of our symptoms of depression and that once we are on medication, ‘everything will be fine.’ This, however, is not the case. 

Medication helps to address or alleviate the physical symptoms of depression such as body aches, fatigue, and lethargy. What this really means is that medication is helpful in allowing us to feel ‘better’ enough to do the work towards directly addressing our depression and finding lasting solutions. 

Essentially, medication functions on the level of addressing our limbic system (our emotional reactions/the physical symptoms of depression), whereas therapy also focuses on our cortex (our thinking brain) to help us work through our thoughts and emotions in order to find and achieve health and healing. 

To think of it another way, if depression ran on a scale from 1-10, and without treatment we are constantly living at a ten—feeling excessively lethargic, achy, entirely disinterested—typically this means that we can’t get out of bed or do anything to effectively work towards healing. When this is the case, medication can be a helpful approach in lowering that scale—from, say, a ten to maybe a five or a six. Lowering our symptoms from a ten to a six is extremely helpful, but it doesn’t mean our depression is completely gone. What it does mean, however, is that we are now at a point that we can get out of bed, we can face our struggles, and we have the energy to do the work we need to do to lower or even eliminate our depression. 

This and other research suggests that psychotherapy should be the first approach for sustainable depression treatment, especially for younger individuals. Medication is best reserved as a secondary approach and has been found to be more effective for older adults. 

If you are struggling with depression or other mental health concerns, Catholic Counselors is here to help you find faith filled answers to life’s difficult questions. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 740-266-6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Small Changes That Lead To Greater Happiness

Do you ever just feel “off,” but you don’t know why? Everything seems to be fine, daily life is running along relatively smoothly, but you just feel down, melancholy, or disconnected from life/others?

A new study out of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M reveals that making small changes—such as smiling more—can make an impact on our emotions and overall mood. It seems like a small change, but a meta-analysis of 138 studies demonstrates that smiling really can make us happier. 

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness,” lead researcher, Nicholas Coles, said. “But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.”

If simply smiling more can make an impact on our emotions, what are some other ways for us to lift our mood and feel reconnected?

Acts of kindness—Buy coffee for the person behind you in line, pick up flowers for your significant other on your way home from work, volunteer at the local food pantry. Acts of kindness give us the opportunity to go outside of ourselves and do something to help and bring joy to others. In return, this helps us to feel more positive, purpose driven, and connected to others!

Set daily goals—Setting small, daily goals allows us to feel proactive, productive, and in control. These goals can be anything from doing one load of laundry, to spending five minutes outside, or even simply brushing your teeth on days where accomplishing a larger goal just doesn’t feel doable. Choose whatever small, attainable goal appeals to you each day. It’s not about the task itself, its about the feeling of accomplishment!

Pray—Take time to pray each day. Share with God what you are thinking and feeling. No emotion is too big or small for God to handle. Ask God to help you express your emotions in ways that glorify Him. Setting aside time to pray, or simply praying as we go about your daily activities helps us to feel reconnected to God, to our surroundings, and to our purpose. 

Listen to music—Listen to music that reflects the mood you want to be in, not the mood that you are in. Often when we are sad, angry, etc. we listen to music that reflects that mood. This typically causes us to remain in this mood, however, listening to music that reflects the mood you want to be in (i.e. listening to happy music when you are sad or listening to energetic music when you are tired) actually causes us to adjust to a mood that better matches the music we are listening to. Surprisingly, this can make a big difference in our emotions throughout the day. 

For more on increasing positive emotions, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Increase Your Happiness in Less Than 20 Minutes

As the weather warms up, our ability to spend time outdoors increases. While we are aware that this may make us happier in the moment, new research shows that spending time outside has a significant impact on improving our mental health.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research reveals that spending 20 minutes in a park, regardless of physical exercise, can have lasting health and mental health benefits. 

“Principal investigator Hon K. Yuen, Ph.D., OTR/L, discovered park users experience physical and mental health benefits such as stress reduction and recovery from mental fatigue.”

This and similar studies reveal how even small things can make a big difference in improving our mental health. Here are a few tips to improve your emotional and physical health today:

Take time each day to do something you enjoy—Take at least five to fifteen minutes each day to do something that brings you joy. Reading, taking the long way home so you can spend a few more minutes driving and listening to your favorite music, drawing, writing, or doing a brief workout are all examples of activities that you can do even for just five minutes a day. Taking this time to do something that brings you joy allows you—no matter what kind of day you had—to feel as though you were productive, experienced peace and happiness, and even gives you something to look forward to the next day. Whatever your favorite activities is, try to spend at least five to fifteen minutes each day engaging in that activity. 

Be present—It’s often easy to get engrossed in the chaos of daily life, and when this happens, we often experience a sort of “tunnel vision” where we are so focused on the task or tasks in front of us, we unintentionally forget what is going on around us. To avoid this tunnel vision mindset, take moments throughout the day to look up and look around. Notice the ceiling, let your eyes rest on a part of the room you don’t usually look at, note what sounds are going on around you, even what smells are in the air. Doing this periodically throughout the day helps to bring us back into the present moment and acknowledge what’s going on in the world around us and takes us out of feeling “trapped” by the things we have going on in our lives. 

Express gratitude—Make a list of three to five things you are grateful for each day. This can be a physical list that you write down or just a mental list that you reflect on during your day. Acknowledging the things that we are grateful for each day does not mean minimizing our struggles by saying things such as, “I have things to be grateful for so I shouldn’t feel ___.” Expressing our gratitude allows us to acknowledge the blessings that we have in our lives, it highlights the positive things, however it does not mean that our struggles do not matter. The intention is to lighten the load of those heavier things. Or simply find the joy among the potential chaos. 

For more on increasing happiness in your daily life check out The Life God Wants You To Have and tune in live to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!