Challenging Times—Understanding Grief and Our Experience with The Pandemic

In these difficult days, have you noticed that you can feel fine one minute only to feel sad, confused, disengaged, or overwhelmed the next? If so, you’re not alone.

What’s the cause?  Believe it or not, you may be experiencing grief. We’ve lost a lot this year either directly or indirectly. While many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, all of us have lost our sense of normalcy, our connection with the friends we used to see, or the activities we used to participate in. With COVID-related church closings, we have lost many of our spiritual coping tools.  In many ways, we’ve even lost our natural coping skills—we just can’t do the things we used to do to take down our stress and get the break that we all need. Although we tend not to recognize it, all of these losses are producing a massive, world-wide grief reaction resulting in heightened emotions and often unpredictable mood swings.

But why is grief so difficult to manage? The Theology of The Body reminds us that although grief and loss is part of this life, God never meant for us to experience grief or loss and he intends to restore all things to us when we are one with him. The world tells us that loss–whether the loss of a job, a relationship, our health, or a loved one–is an ending.  In our broken world, the most natural response to loss is to give up; to settle. 

Seen through the eyes of faith, loss represents an opportunity to enter into a deeper experience of Gods mercy, providence and abundance.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be consoled.”  God wants us to approach loss differently.  He wants us to see him, not the world, as the source of all good gifts. Nothing is ever really lost to someone who loves God.  Whatever it is that we think is lost to us–our ability to provide for our needs, the people we care about, the situations or people we depend on—God wants us to turn to him for guidance on how he wants us to respond to that loss.  If we ask God to help us deal with our losses gracefully he will show us how to fill up the hole thats left inside by the things we’ve lost.

Here are three ways that God calls us to respond to our grief:

Be gentle—In challenging times, we must be gentle with ourselves and others. We often have high expectations for ourselves. When we don’t meet those expectations we think, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do what I used to do?” Be gentle and change this hurtful thinking to something more helpful, like,  “What do I need to do to feel taken care of in this moment?” “What is one small thing I can do now to take a step in the right direction?”

Seek connection—our natural response to grief is often to hide out, shut down, and withdraw into ourselves. This is the opposite of how God wants us to respond. God calls us to seek connection, to find community, and reach out to others who can walk with us and support us effectively through our experience.

Honor what we’ve lost—Working through grief requires us to honor what we’ve lost. We can honor a loved one by calling to mind their strengths and the ways they were a gift to our lives, then intentionally working to display those strengths in our own lives and being a gift to others in similar ways. We can honor the activities that we’ve lost by finding connection with them in new ways. If our kids are missing school we can ask them what they’re missing most about the school day and do our best to recreate some of those experiences at home. We can honor the connections they’ve lost by helping to keep them connected to their friends, or by encouraging them to draw pictures or writing notes to send to the people they care about. If we’re missing participating in certain events, brainstorm other productive and enjoyable things to do with that time.  The key is not simply sitting around waiting for someone else to program our life again, but to take charge and start living more intentionally.  By taking this approach, we honor the parts of our life that we miss while actively creating the new life God is calling us to grow into.

If you would like to seek support and find help working through your experience with grief, contact us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Four Ways to Keep Your Relationship Afloat In Tough Times

Husbands and wives pledge to love each other through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty. On the day of the wedding, these promises feel comforting. But when bad times come through the door, love often flies out the window.  How can a couple stick together even when the going gets tough?

Decades of research have revealed the following four habits to be essential for staying close through difficult times. They are like four pontoons that keep your relationship afloat (see what I did there?), especially when the storms of life lead you into choppy waters.

1.Meaningful Couple Prayer—Turns out, the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC. was right. The couple that prays together really does stay together.  Research by Baylor University found that couples who engage in meaningful couple-prayer are significantly more likely to think positively about each other and feel closer to each other, especially through hard times.

Meaningful couple prayer isn’t just about “saying words at God.”  It requires you and your spouse to take a little time every day—even just five minutes—to talk to God about your life, your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and your feelings.  Sit down together and speak to God as if he were the person who knew you best and loved you most.  In addition to the graces we receive from prayer, couple-prayer “works” on a human level because it gives couples a safe, quasi-indirect way to reveal our hearts to one another.  We talk to God while our spouse listens in.  Then, as our spouse prays, we ask God to help us really hear what our spouse is trying to say.  What are their needs, their fears, their wants and concerns?  How do these fit with our own needs, fears, wants and concerns?  By listening to each other in prayer, the Holy Spirit can guide you toward graceful solutions.

2.Talk Together—Create a daily talk ritual; a time where you intentionally discuss topics that don’t natually come up.  Specifically, focus on three questions.  1) How are each of you holding up?  Be honest.  What do you feel like you’re handling well?  Where do you feel like you’re struggling?  When were you at your best today?  When were you at your worst?  2)  When did you feel closest to your spouse/most grateful for your spouse’s support today?  First of all, discussing this question daily makes you more conscious of the need to do things to support each other.  Second, acknowledging the ways you have shown up for each other throughout the day reminds you that you aren’t alone. You have a friend who really wants to be there for you. 3) What could you do to help make each other’s day a little easier/more pleasant?  Is there a project you need some help with?  Is there something you need prayer for?  Are there little things that your spouse sometimes does that mean a lot?  Take this time to ask each other to do those little things that say, “Even when life is falling apart, you can count on me to be here and to take care of you.”

3.Work Together—Your household chores aren’t just something to get through.  They’re actually opportunities to build a sense of solidarity and team spirit.  It’s a funny thing.  You might not know how to weather the latest crisis, but doing something as simple as making the bed together, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner together, or picking up the family room together before you turn in sends a powerful unconscious message that says, “I’m not just here for the fun.  I’m here for the hard stuff and the boring stuff too.  Somehow, we can get through this. Together.”

Research shows that couples who make a daily habit of cultivating simple caretaking behaviors like doing chores side-by-side develop better cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. It turns out that the way you work together to avoid bumping into each other and stepping on each other’s toes while you clean up the kitchen becomes the unconscious template for how you work together to handle that health crisis, financial problem, or other unexpected challenge.

4. Play Together—When you’re going through tough times, you don’t want to play.  We just want to isolate and hide.  Resist that temptation as best you can. Make a little time every day to do something pleasant together. Think about the simple pleasures you enjoy in happier times and make yourselves do them–even if you’re not really feeling it.  It might not be all laughs and giggles, but worst case scenario?  You might help each other remember that life isn’t completely horrible and you’ll have each other to thank for that little moment of joy.  Psychology reminds us that humor and play are two the most sophisticated defense mechanisms.  They help us stubbornly resolve to make beautiful moments even when life is anything but.  The couple that learns how to gently play together even the face of trials are true masters at life and love.

Life can be hard, but cultivating a love that “endures all things” (1Cor 13:7), isn’t complicated. By remembering to Pray, Talk, Work, and Play together, you can build a relationship that can stand up to whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including Just Married. Learn more 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!

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.

Healing From Old Hurts

Forgiveness is a common subject. We frequently hear “inspirational” quotes about forgiveness and letting go. But what does forgiveness and letting go really mean and what steps do we need to take to truly be able to heal from past hurts?

Forgive–Forgiving doesn’t mean pretending “everything’s OK” or acting as if more healing doesn’t need to take place. St Augustine said that forgiveness simply requires us to surrender our natural desire for revenge. To forgive someone just means that you are going to refuse to be defined by the injuries you have suffered at their hands, and that you are refusing to make things worse by hurting them for having hurt you. Forgiveness allows something other than our pain to come into existence. It allows the possibility for healing to occur. The first step in letting go of old hurts is choosing to forgive the other person by refusing to be defined by your pain and choosing to get on with letting God’s grace heal your heart and any other damage that might have been caused by the other person’s actions.

Focus on Healing Not Hurting–Sometimes, even after we’ve forgiven someone, it can be hard to heal. Sometimes, we can even fall a little in love with being the victim. Holding on to victimhood sounds bad, but it can feel good, because it makes us feel like we’re on the winning team of us against the world. But this is an illusion that separates us from God’s healing grace. You don’t have to deny the pain you feel from those old hurts. You just have to focus on taking the next step in healing those hurts. When those injuries come up, instead of nursing them, ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do right now to heal myself or this relationship? What’s one small step I can take to regain what was taken from me or heal what was broken in me?”  Then do that thing. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to do, seek guidance from a faithful mentor, spiritual director or pastoral counselor. Either way, the key to letting go of old hurts isn’t found in pretending they don’t exist or in wallowing in them. It is found in making a plan to let God’s healing grace into your heart so that you can not only restore what lost, but so that you can rise up to new heights through God’s mercy and his healing love.

Cultivate Joy–Cultivating joy in the face of old hurts doesn’t mean putting on a happy face and denying your problems. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is the quality we achieve by doing everything we can to cooperate with God’s grace to live a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life.  Living more meaningfully means doing whatever we can to use our gifts, talents, and abilities to make a positive difference in our lives and the world around us. Living more intimately means doing whatever we can to make our relationships healthier and deeper. Living more virtuously means asking how we can use whatever life throws at us as our opportunity to become stronger, healthier, godlier people. The more we respond to our pain by throwing ourselves into cultivating meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, the more we cooperate with God’s desire to give us joy in place of the hurt.

For more on how to heal from past hurts check out The Life God Wants You To Have and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN SiriusXM channel 130.

Healing Us through Our Woundedness

Guest post by Deacon Dominic Cerrato, Ph.D., Director of the Pastoral Solutions Spiritual Direction Services

It’s quite common in spiritual direction to hear someone say, “If God would just take away this cross, I would be a much better Christian.” Suffering impacts all of us to a greater or lesser degree such that, to live is to suffer. This is not to suggest that life can be reduced to suffering, but that suffering is a significant aspect of life. Hence, the real question is not so much “that” we suffer, but “how” we suffer. Our faith teaches us that suffering can simply be the endurance of pain or, united with the crucified and risen Christ, truly redemptive. In this respect, it’s a divine gift.

The gift of redemptive suffering, which exists for the good of our souls, doesn’t imply we shouldn’t try to alleviate suffering beginning with prayer. Recall how Jesus, before entering into his Passion, prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will (Mt 26:39).”

Our Lord’s prayer in the garden expressed a twofold desire – one rooted in the reality of the present and the other trusting in a promise of the future. Jesus knew what lay before him and, being fully human and fully divine, understood the suffering he would endure.  At the very same time and in the very same prayer, he surrendered his will to the Father, recognizing that, despite the reality of the moment, despite his sufferings, there was something bigger at stake, the salvation of the world.

For us, the acceptance of this kind of suffering is nothing less than an exercise of discipleship which requires us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus daily (Lk 9:23).  Accomplished with the aid of grace, it enables us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling(Phil 2:12), bearing witness to the One who bore witness to us.

When we intentionally unite our sufferings with Jesus, when we consciously offer up our imperfect sacrifice with his perfect sacrifice, suffering moves beyond the mere endurance of pain. If we allow it, it can become a true path to holiness enabling God to heal us through our woundedness. More a process than an event, we begin to see, perhaps ever-so-slowly at first, that our suffering isn’t a curse, but a gift. It’s not an impediment to intimate union with our Lord, but a means to draw so close to us that, in our suffering, his loving presence brings about the deepest kind of healing.

For spiritual direction, contact us at 740-266-6461 or visit us at https://www.catholiccounselors.com/spiritual-direction/

5 Reasons Why Spiritual Direction Might Be Right for You

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Guest post by Deacon Dominic Cerrato, Ph.D.

A life lived in faith has only one final goal, intimate communion with Jesus Christ. Without Him, life is empty and stripped of its ultimate meaning. With Him, we gain a sense of fulfillment and purpose. While perfect communion only exists when, at the end of our lives, we see God in the face; the nature of the Christian life is to grow in ever-deepening intimacy with Him during our earthly walk.

Over the centuries, the Church has used several terms and phrases to describe this dynamic such as conversion, divinization, growth in holiness, and cultivation of the interior life. All of these are meant to convey a sense that God, who is Love, desires us more than we can possibly desire Him. Because of this, and in spite of our sinfulness, He draws us to Himself through the passion, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. Beyond this, He established the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, through which the fullness of truth and sanctification subsists.

This said, we live in a pluralistic society that can easily distract us from our final goal and the experience of intimate communion during this life. God, who knows all things, knows this and so provides us with the grace to refocus and reorder our lives. This grace is experienced through such things as: prayer, meditating on the sacred Scriptures, frequenting the Sacraments, active parish life, and ongoing adult formation.

Despite the many ways to encounter our Lord through these pious activities and thus grow in intimate communion with Him, all can benefit from spiritual direction. Here are five basic reasons why spiritual direction might be right for you. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but represents key elements in the discernment of spiritual direction:

  1. Cultivating a Richer Prayer Life We often forget that prayer, as important as it is, is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  We simply don’t pray for the sake of prayer, but to encounter the God who saves us. As we progress in the spiritual life, we can experience dryness or constant distractions. Good spiritual direction helps directees to enter into prayer in a more profound way, to see it as a kind of dialogue in which we are called to listen first and, only after we listen, speak.   
  2. Greater Awareness of God It’s very easy, amid the hustle and bustle of life, to compartmentalize our experiences of God. We are aware of His presence in religious activities, but God is all around us constantly communicating to us through the often-mundane aspects of our lives. Spiritual direction helps directees to better attune themselves to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit in all areas of their life.
  3. Transform Faith into Action The interior life does not exist in a vacuum. As St. James reminds us, “Faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17).” The interior life finds it’s expression and realization in the exterior life, the life of choices and actions. The more we are aware of the presence of God throughout the day the more likely we are to order our choices to Him. These not only impact the world outside of us by witnessing to others, it also has an inward transformative effect. Spiritual direction helps directees to consider their actions in light of their faith revealing Christ in often subtle, but nonetheless profound ways.
  4. Help Make Major Decisions Life this side of heaven often brings us to crossroads; places where we must make major decisions in the course of our lives. These decisions can be about relationships, career opportunities or even the level of participation in the life of the parish. To a greater or lesser degree, these test our faith and the core values that flow from that faith. Good spiritual direction helps to refocus faith, tap into the grace we received at Baptism, and reaffirm our Christian values so that we are better equipped to make these decisions.
  5. Get Spiritually Unstuck Because the spiritual life is about growing in a deeper more intimate communion with Jesus Christ, it is, by its very nature, dynamic. At times and for different reasons, we may find our relationship with Him as rather static.  At it’s worse, we can experience what seems like an abandonment from God resulting in a kind of spiritual paralysis. This paralysis will negatively impact our prayer life, our reception of the sacraments and the way we see Christ in others.  Sound spiritual direction can help identify the reasons for this paralysis and provide spiritual and pastoral guidance.

Though spiritual direction is not a requirement of the Christian life, everyone seeking a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ can benefit from it.  If you would like to pursue spiritual direction, consult your pastor to recommend a solid spiritual director in your area or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute about spiritual direction over the phone.

 

Deacon Dominic Cerrato is the director of Pastoral Solutions Spiritual Direction Services