Whose Will You Be? A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

To whom do you belong? Whose will you be? At it’s core, this is what the Sadducees seem to be asking in this Sunday’s Gospel from the Book of Luke Chapter 20: 27-38. The response that Jesus offers is surprising:  in, “the resurrection of the dead,” he says, we, “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Does this mean, you might ask, that I won’t be married to my partner in Heaven? Depending on the state of your relationship, I imagine you’l be asking that question with either a smile or a frown.

Rest assured, though: as my own theological mentor often says, Jesus is not offering a deletion of relationship, but rather a completion. That is to say, Jesus is painting a picture of Heaven, not as a place which removes the closeness, trust and intimacy we experience with one person in marriage, but where we can experience that same closeness, trust and intimacy with every person. It has been said that Heaven is where we will “know and be known,” and this is the promise to which Christ refers in his admonition to the scholars of the law. In this redeemed order, marriage would simply be redundant. We will all belong to one another and, most ultimately, to God.
This is a beautiful promise, but it also leaves us with quite the responsibility here on earth. According to Christ’s paradigm, marriage is the “preseason” (if you’ll forgive the sports analogy) to the “game time” of Heaven. Marriage is the training ground where I learn to fully give my fullest self and receive my partner’s fullest self in return. Marriage is the place, it seems, where we first “know and are known.”
Of course, few of our relationships match this perfectly. But do not despair! If nothing else, Christ’s words to the Sadducees call us not to settle for the pettiness of the world but rather to aspire to the dreams and standards of God. Seeing as He’s the one who created us in the first place, He’d probably be the one to know if we (and our relationships) are capable of more than we might otherwise settle for.
Start by asking God to give you the grace and courage to discern how he’s calling your relationship to become more Heavenly, and if you need a little extra help and support, pick up a copy of How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.
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.

Feeding Your Teenager’s Faith

Faith evolves in stages. Knowing how to foster your teenager’s faith begins with understanding the unique spiritual food that nourishes an adolescent’s faith-development.

Teens occupy what’s called the “Synthetic-Conventional” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Relationship & Mission Stage”

Teens are focused on figuring out their place in the world. So, they tend to believe something is “true” if it facilitates their relationships and helps them feel like they can make a difference. In the same way, they believe something’s “false” if it complicates their relationships or seems to be a source of conflict and division in their lives.

When parents focus too much on what our faith doesn’t allow us to do, or who our faith doesn’t allow us to hang out with, teens get the message that faith is an obstacle to either having relationships or discovering their purpose. The stronger they feel that way, the more likely it is that they’ll fight against the faith–or reject it altogether.

Instead of becoming too focused on the “Thou Shalt Not’s,” concentrate on giving your teens experiences that prove their faith can help them have fulfilling relationships AND make a positive difference in some way.

The most important way to do that is to make sure your teens see how your Catholic faith is having a positive impact in your home and family life. They need to see that your faith is helping you get along better–and care for each other more–than other families that don’t live the faith the way you do. Additionally, it’s important to help teens find faithful peers they can associate with, and causes they can put their faith and energy behind.

The more you can help your teen discover how their faith can enable them to build strong relationships and a healthy sense of mission, the more you’ll be giving your teens the spiritual food they need to grow into a faithful adulthood.

Want more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith? Check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

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!

Teaching Kids How To Talk To God

We all want to teach our children to develop their own faith identity and relationship with God, but how do we do it?

For kids to own their faith, the most important thing is to help them experience Jesus Christ in a meaningful, personal way.

The best way to do that is to teach them to talk to God just as they would talk to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because he does. While FORMAL prayer helps give kids a sense of belonging to God’s family, the Church, CONVERSATIONAL prayer helps kids realize that God is interested in having a more personal relationship with them as well.

The best way to encourage your kids to experience God this way is to model conversational prayer for them.  Let them hear you thanking God for little blessings throughout the day, asking for his help, praying—out loud—about your big and small decisions, and inviting him to be a part of your everyday life.

Of course it’s important to teach them how to do the same thing. When they tell you about something good that happens in their day, tell them how proud or happy you are first, but then say, “Let’s thank Jesus for that together.”  Then help them find the words to thank God, out loud, for that blessing.

If your kids are struggling or hurting—physically or emotionally—by all means attend to their boo-boo’s, or encourage them with whatever support you can give first, but then say, “Let’s ask God for his help with this.”  Then help them talk to God about their struggles the exact same way they would talk to anyone else they needed help from.

Show them how to relate to God as if he was right there next to you, listening, just waiting to be invited to be part of the conversation and to help in any way he can–because of course, he is!

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

Praying With Small Children

Praying with small children can be difficult. They tend to be wiggly and have short attention spans. When little ones are involved, it’s easy for family prayer time to seem more like…Wrestlemania. But you can have a meaningful prayer time with small children if you remember that little people need different spiritual food than bigger people.

Faith develops in different stages from early childhood, to middle childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  Children around 6 and under are in what’s called the “intuitive-projective” stage of faith. But we like to call it “the cuddly stage.”

In the “cuddly stage” of faith development, children believe something is “true” and good if it FEELS loving, and safe, and friendly.  They believe something is “false” if it FEELS stiff, cold, and unrelatable.

You can focus more on things like prayer-posture and getting prayers “just right” as kids get a little older.  But in the “cuddly faith” stage, the best way to nurture your child’s faith is to make prayer-times–and other experiences with the faith–affectionate, inviting, imaginative, and even playful.

Let your little ones cuddle in your lap when you pray with them. Be affectionate.  As you hold them, concentrate on letting them feel God’s arms around them and letting them feel God’s love filling their hearts through you.  

Sing kid-friendly praise songs together. Use different voices when you read them bible stories or saint stories. Make it fun.

Engage their imagination by asking them to pretend that they were actually in the stories.  You can even act those stories out together!

By understanding the spiritual food that a small child’s faith requires, you can help fill their hunger for God. 

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.

To Cohabitate, or Not to Cohabitate. That is The Question

Celebrity couples live together, regular couples live together, if everyone’s cohabiting, that means there has to be some benefit to it, right? Not so fast…

A new study published by the Institute for Family Studies found that cohabitation is rapidly becoming more popular than marriage, even “shotgun cohabitations” are statically more common than “shotgun marriages.” However, research released by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University has reveled that married couples report three key differences in the quality of their relationships than couples who are cohabiting. 

According to the results of this research, the first statistically significant difference in these relationships revels that married couples are more likely to report relationship satisfaction than couples who are cohabiting. After controlling for factors such as age, education, and relationship duration, it was found that 54% of married women report higher levels of satisfaction while married men report 49% relationship satisfaction. When compared to their counterparts of cohabiting women and men, these individuals reported 40% and 35% satisfaction rates, respectively. 

Next it was found that married couples report greater levels of commitment in their relationship than couples who are cohabiting. As the top three reasons for couples to cohabit include convenience, financial benefits, and “to test a relationship,” it should be no surprise that 46% of married couples report higher levels of commitment in their relationship, compared to approximately only 30% of cohabiting couples. 

Finally, research has found that married couples are more likely to report relationship stability than cohabiting couples. When respondents were asked how likely they were to say that their relationship would continue, 54% of married adults reported relationship stability and continuation, while only 28% of cohabiting adults reported stability and a future for their relationship—this includes cohabiting relationships that include children. 

This and further research reveals that cohabitation fundamentally changes the way that couples view marriage. Couples who cohabitate naturally develop the mindset of, “What if it doesn’t work out?” This thought pattern that a cohabiting couple can simply move out and move on with someone else distresses these three important factors of relationship satisfaction, commitment, and stability that are essential to a successful and thriving marriage. 

When discussing these results, the Institute for Family Studies reports, “despite prevailing myths about cohabitation being similar to marriage, when it comes to the relationship quality measures that count—like commitment, satisfaction, and stability—research continues to show that marriage is still the best choice for a strong and stable union.”

For information on how to have a successful and thriving marriage, check out Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five years of Marriage, and find more resources by visiting us at CatholicCounselors.com!

How to Cultivate Meaningful Family Prayer

Praying together as a family—at all—can seem intimidating.

Life is busy, and because of this, most families are happy just to make prayer happen, much less make it meaningful.  But there’s good news! You don’t have to be a saint or have perfect kids to have an awesome family prayer time.

So how do we make our prayer time meaningful and teach our kids to have a personal relationship with God?

First, make family prayer a regular part of your everyday life.  Pick a time you’re already naturally together–like dinner time or bedtime–and make spending some time with God part of that routine.

Second, remember that family prayer isn’t just about saying words AT God.  It’s about both helping your family enter into a real relationship WITH God, AND experiencing the Lord as another member of your household.

Third, it is important to teach your kids to talk to God just like they were talking to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because He does! 

Regardless of whether you’re using formal prayers, like the rosary, or taking a more conversational approach, gently encourage everyone to slow down and really think about what they’re saying. 

When you’re using more formal prayer with little ones, don’t forget to discuss what those strange words and phrases like “bounty” or “full of grace” or “trespasses” mean. You can’t have a real conversation if you don’t know what you’re saying!

By remembering that prayer is meant to be an actual conversation with the person who knows you best and loves you most—God!—you can make sure your kids learn to pray with their whole heart.

Want more ideas for celebrating a meaningful family prayer life? Check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids!

You Can’t Judge Depression By Its Cover

“They seem/seemed so happy.” “They have everything together.” “I/They don’t have any reason to complain.”

Chances are you’ve said at least one of these things about someone, or maybe you’ve even said them about yourself. 

Researchers are discovering a surge in this topic that many are calling “smiling depression,” or the more technical term, “atypical depression.” These terms describe individuals who seem to “have it all together,” who appear happy—but under their external facade or appearance are struggling with depression. 

One article describes, “It can be very hard to spot people suffering from smiling depression. They may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.”

This type of depression can be difficult to identify, especially with the influence of social media and the norm to only share the highlights of our lives or only post what we want people to think about us. Furthermore, it can be difficult to know how to reach out for help when we are the ones experiencing this “atypical depression” because, “maybe others won’t understand,” or “I can’t let people know I’m struggling, everyone knows me as a happy and put-together person.”

So what do we do to overcome this struggle within ourselves and support those who may be dealing with atypical depression?

Make Prayer a Two-Way Communication—Often we feel as though we have to recite written prayers, or share with God our every need or dream in an eloquent, well thought out manner. While these prayers can be helpful—and all prayer is good—it is important to remember that our relationship with God should be, as with any other relationship, a two way street. While God loves to hear our prayers and our voices, God wants to communicate with us, He wants us to listen to Him. To do this, it is important that we try spending time each day sharing our prayers with God, but then spending time in silence, listening for His voice, for His direction, for His love. This is an incredible way to not only strengthen and deepen our relationship with God, but it also allows us to feel less alone and less as though it’s all up to us. God is there for us, we just have to provide the space and the silence for Him to speak to us and work through us. 

Honesty is The Best Policy—So often I hear, “my friends can always count on me to be there for them, but I can’t expect them to be there for me.” As described in the first point, relationships are—or at least are intended to be—two way streets. Allow yourself to expect from others what they can expect from you. With this mindset, be honest with those who you feel a connection with. Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a close friend, or maybe it’s a co-worker or someone who you enjoy talking to but aren’t extremely close with. Sharing your feelings with the latter individual may allow for a new, beautiful friendship to blossom. No matter who you share your feelings with, be honest. Put down the appearance you so often carry, and be yourself—the put together parts, the struggling parts, and everything in between. 

Likewise, be that person for someone else. Be the person who your friends can be honest with. Ask questions about them. Remove the barriers of appearance. We will all be a lot happier when we can be our true selves with others. 

Random Acts of Kindness—Kindness and happiness can have a ripple effect. Hold the door for someone, smile at that stranger, say thank you, pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line. These seemingly tiny acts can make such a big impact. Not only do these acts touch others lives in beautiful ways, they make us feel good, positive, hopeful. These small acts bring light to the world. They allow others to feel seen, to feel cared about, they allow us to go outside of ourselves, be a positive influence on another person’s life, and do something good. Pay attention the next time you do this for someone. How do they react? Are they surprised? Do they smile a little more? Do their eyes light up?  How do you react when you practice an act of kindness, or when someone does this for you? This little moment of joy, of hope, of positivity can influence us and others in bigger ways that maybe we simply didn’t notice before. 

For more ways to overcome the daily challenges of life and bring more peace and joy to yourself and those around you, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130. And be sure to visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com! 

Dealing With Others’ Emotions

We all know that when someone yawns, then we start yawning too. New research shows that our emotions cause the same chain reaction. 

A study out of Yale University—lead by sociologist Nicholas Christakis—documented a variety of interactions of approximately 5,000 people living in one town over the course of 32 years. When discussing the results of this study, Christakis says, “We were able to show that as one person became happy or sad, it rippled through the network.” The study demonstrated that this can happen even through the small interactions that occur with others on a daily basis, such as smiling at someone you pass on the street, while of course there are even larger effects with those we have one-on-one interactions with. 

As this research shows, our emotions “spread” to others. Structures in our brain replicate the feelings of others. Biologically, that’s another sign of the way God created us for communion. Our ability to actually feel the emotions of others gives us an opportunity feel connected to them, to identify their needs and work for their good more effectively. The downside is that we can get too caught up in other’s feelings or allow their emotions to drag us down. The key is remembering the personalistic norm. It isn’t enough to feel what others feel. We have to always orient ourselves to working for their good, for our good, and the good of the relationship– whatever that means in the situation. We might start by empathizing, but then we have to ask “what does God want for me, for this person, for this situation?” And move in that direction. Doing this allows us to be generous in our response to other’s feelings while not getting stuck in their feelings.

The question is, how do we set this personalistic norm to ensure that we are always working for the good of others and ourselves? Here are a few tips!

Empathizing isn’t Wallowing–It is good to want to be there for others who are experiencing emotional pain, but there is a difference between empathizing and wallowing. Empathizing allows us to have enough of a taste of what the other person is experiencing that we are able to make them feel truly understood. But research shows that once we have made that emotional connection, staying in an emotional place actually makes things worse. Once we’ve made that empathic connection, it’s time to ask, “What do you think you’d like to do about this?” and start helping the other person find even tiny things they can do to respond a little better to the situation at hand, to take a little better care of themselves, or at least be more effective at gathering the resources they need to make a better response. Feelings are not an end in themselves. Neither is empathy. Empathy exists so that we can make enough of an emotional connection with each other that we can stop each other from falling into emotional holes in the first place or help each other not get stuck in the emotional holes we do fall into. By all means, be willing to meet someone where they are at emotionally, but once you have made that emotional connection, be sure to ask God what he wants you and the other person to do to respond to the situation more effectively and gracefully.

Keep Up Emotional Boundaries–Being willing to support someone who is going through a bad time emotionally doesn’t mean that you have to be willing to put up with abuse. At first, it can be appropriate to “bear wrongs patiently” as you realize that a person who is upset, frustrated, or hurting isn’t really meaning to take it out on you, but if their bad behavior persists or becomes habitual, then it’s time to set some gentle but firm boundaries. For instance, you might say, “I love you and I want to support you, but when you treat me like this its hard to be what you need me to be. I’m not your enemy and I need to you stop treating me like I am.” Setting these gentle boundaries can make all the difference between allowing yourself to be a safe landing place for the people you love versus being their punching bag.

Know Your Limits–It’s good to be there for others who are suffering, but our responsibility to work for their good requires us to know when someone needs more than we are able or qualified to give them. Sometimes, we can get in over our heads when we feel like someone needs us so much. We might suggest that they talk to the person they are having problems with or seek professional help, but they either don’t do it or they tell us that they just need more of us. Then, we feel guilty pulling back because they need us so much. It’s important to remember that in a case like this, we actually make things worse by trying to be the other person’s only or primary source of support. Instead we need to say, “I wish I could do more, but this is the point where you need to talk to so and so, or seek help from this and that. If you can’t or won’t do that, I’m not going to be able to be here for you either because you need more help than I can appropriately give you.”  Knowing our limits allows us to be there for others in a way that actually works for their good instead of allowing them to stay stuck and dragging us down with them.

For more resources on how to deal with others emotions, 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 channel 130!

How to Make The Most Out of Lent

Lent is upon us and many of us are still praying and thinking about what Lenten sacrifice or practice we should implement over the next forty days. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what we should do for Lent. Of course there are the popular ideas of giving up social media or giving up chocolate, and while these can absolutely be helpful to our personal growth and relationship with God, these and other popular Lenten ideas can often be chosen with no particular personal meaning behind them. 

Lent is not simply a time where we deprive ourselves of joy for a few weeks—just because. It is a time where we are supposed to focus on our own personal relationship with God, developing our mental, personal, and spiritual health—so that we can make more room for God in our every day lives. As Christopher West describes, Lent and fasting is “never an end in itself, it’s a means to the joy of the feast.” Lenten practices are meant to reveal to us the full and true joy of the Easter Season and God’s love for us every day of our lives. 

So what are some ways for us to achieve the fullness of Lent and the gain the most out of our Lenten practices? Here are a few ideas…

Give up trying to do everything by yourself – Self-sufficiency and independence can be great qualities to have, but there is true beauty and humility in acknowledging when we need help from others. Asking others for help can foster fruit in a variety of areas. We can develop our relationships with others when we let them into our lives in ways that allow them to take care of us in some way. Likewise, when we are always trying to do everything by ourselves, and we’re constantly taking care of others without letting them take care of us, resentment often grows without us even realizing. This resentment can creep up on us and damage our relationships with others and with God. So this Lent, take a step back, give up stubbornness, embrace humility, and reach out to others when help is needed. Or simply allow others to help if and when they offer. 

Give up overthinking and jumping to conclusions – This can be a hard one, but wow it makes a huge impact. When something small occurs, it can be all too easy—even automatic—to ruminate on the situation, overthink, and come to negative and often unrealistic conclusions. Not only can this ruin our day in about five seconds, it can also heavily impact our relationships. We may treat others differently because of a conclusion that we developed in our heads, and the other person will have no idea why we are acting the way we are acting. But how do we stop this habit of overthinking? First, take interactions and situations at face value. Don’t add ideas, put words in others’ mouths, or create outcomes that aren’t based in facts. Second, when these negative thoughts or overthinking spirals begin, instead of thinking of the most negative conclusion, intentionally think of the best possible outcome. At this point, we often begin to question, “What’s the point of thinking of the best possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Now, when this question arises, ask the same question about the negative outcome. “What’s the point of thinking of the worst possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Exactly. The difference, however, is that thinking of the best possible outcome gives us hope, while thinking of the worst outcome makes us want to give up. Hope gives us joy and helps us grow closer to God. Because of this, thinking of the positive scenarios is the more Godly practice. 

Give up over-scheduling and overworking – We live in a society that is extremely focused on achievement. Especially because of social media, we constantly feel the need to be doing something and to be able to say, “I’m so busy!” Sometimes it almost becomes a competition to see who has the busiest schedule. Being this busy leaves very little time for fun, for enjoyment, for relaxation. We lose touch with who we are as individuals, as a couple, or as a family because we are so focused on getting to the next activity or working on the next project. Give up this over-scheduling and overworking habit this Lent by setting aside time to do something that gives you joy. Make time to relax and spend time together as a family. Instead of scheduling an event or a project for work, schedule time for a date night. Whether you just hang out at home and enjoy the peace and quiet or you take a day trip to one of your favorite spots, regularly make time this Lent to step back, relax, and prioritize time to do something that brings you—or you and your family—joy.

These are just a few ideas to bring us closer to God this Lent. We don’t have to choose one of these ideas, and we certainly don’t have to practice them all. Maybe choose just one thing to work on this Lent. But as we decide what it is we will practice, let us start by asking God, “What barriers need to be removed in my life for me to be able to love You and love others the way You want me to?”  

For more on developing a deeper relationship with God, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and find more resources by visiting us online at CatholicCounselors.com!