Does Jesus Want Us to be ‘Nice’ to the Difficult People in Our Lives?


“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Jesus couldn’t have been more clear that following him means imitating the Father’s radically generous, unconditional love. He didn’t just preach this love; he embodied it through his death on the cross, and he expected his disciples to “take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Over the centuries, those words have inspired countless Christians to heroic acts of love, sometimes to the point of sacrificing their lives.

Unfortunately, too many Christians also take Jesus’ teaching to mean that they ought to patiently put up with bad behavior from difficult—or even abusive—people.

But as Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak frequently point out to callers on their More2Life radio show, that’s a serious misunderstanding of Jesus’ call to radical love. In fact, such an approach may not be loving at all.

 

Jesus Wasn’t Always ‘Nice’

To see why Christian love sometimes calls for us to stand up for ourselves, set healthy boundaries, and in some cases, even end a relationship, we need to get a fuller picture of who Jesus really was.

Jesus dealt with “difficult” people all the time. Sometimes, those difficult people were even his closest friends! Other times, they were religious authorities who had it out for him.

Did Jesus quietly tolerate problematic behavior in the interest of “being nice”? He certainly stood up to the religious leaders who opposed him, often in forceful terms that left no question about their need for a change of heart.

Nor did he let his friends off the hook when they went astray. He famously rebuked Peter just moments after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 16:23).

At the same time, Jesus met known sinners with tenderness and mercy: think of his encounter with Zacchaeus or the woman caught in adultery, for example.

 

Real Love Works for the Good of the Other

Each of these very different approaches had a common motivation: Jesus’ genuine love for the person, tuned to achieve the good of the person he was encountering. As St. Thomas Aquinas would later put it, Christ-like love “wills the good of the other.” Christian love cooperates with God to help the other person become fully the person God desires them to be.

At the heart of our love for anybody, then, is the question: “What do I need to do to help this person achieve the good that God wants for him or her?”

In a healthy relationship, the answer would begin with the needs and desires of the other person. But in the case of someone whose problematic behavior is causing real, ongoing harm to us or other people, the bar is a lot lower. In these cases, really loving the person begins with not letting them mistreat you or other people. Instead, it begins with helping them become a better person.

Usually, the first step is to engage the person in a respectful, cooperative conversation about how to change the problem behavior. In God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People, Dr. Popcak outlines a five-step process for doing that.

If a person isn’t open to cooperatively working on the problem, then the next step might be setting limits or boundaries on the relationship. Ideally, these boundaries are targeted at the problem behavior and don’t cut off the relationship completely.

Sometimes, though, it is necessary to end the relationship entirely, especially if your life or health are in danger. As the Church teaches, we have a duty to care for our own life (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2264).

 

The Love of the Cross

At this point, you may wonder how Jesus’ call for his disciples to “take up their cross and follow me” fits into the picture of Christian life. After all, plenty of saints have suffered, and even given their life, for the sake of Christ.

What distinguishes the sacrifice of the cross, though, is that it served a higher purpose; Jesus sacrificed his life to save all humanity. The sacrifices of the saints and martyrs participated in that sacrifice. For instance, saints such as Maximilian Kolbe, Gianna Beretta Molla, Oscar Romero, and Maria Goretti sacrificed their lives in order to save another life, or to stand up for truth and justice.

Each of us has everyday opportunities to practice this sort of sacrificial love: quietly putting up with a spouse’s annoying but harmless habit, getting up with the baby so your spouse can get some much-needed rest, ignoring a stranger’s rudeness out of charity.

But if you’re dealing with someone whose behavior is causing real problems, then ask yourself: Is putting up with this behavior really the best way to love this person? Does it serve Christ and the Kingdom of God?

If the answer is “no,” then it might be time to imitate Jesus’ other ways of loving difficult people.

For much more on this topic, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! And if you need professional, one-on-one help navigating a difficult relationship, reach out to one of the Catholic counselors at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Ministry of Parenthood

The world makes it tempting to be busy with many things–even various ministries–but The Theology of The Body reminds us that the most basic and fundamental ministry of every Christian person is parenthood. Whether or not we have children, every person was created to nurture others, to use our gifts to help others, and to support each other in becoming everything were created to be. That is what it is to “parent.” 

We’re made in God’s image and likeness and becoming like our Heavenly Father means, first and foremost, mastering the love that stands at the heart of parenthood. Every Christian is first called to be a spiritual parent, using our gifts to bless and build up others. Beyond this, some Christians are called to be biological or adoptive parents too. In either case, parenting isn’t just one ministry among many. According to the Theology of the Body, parenthood is the fundamental ministry from which all other ministry efforts flow.

If we aren’t embracing the fundamental call to motherhood and fatherhood (both spiritual and actual) and constantly striving and praying for God’s grace to be the best mothers and fathers we can be first and foremost, we’ll never have a healthy understanding of masculinity and femininity, relationships in general, God, the Church, or what it means to be a Christian disciple. Doing the work required to be an excellent parent–whether spiritual or actual–is the primary way God helps us heal the wounds that make it hard for us to love others the way He loves us. 

Parenting is hard, but not because kids are tough, or people are hard to deal with. It’s hard because healing is hard. The harder we find parenting the more God is calling us to heal, and the more God is promising to pour his healing grace into our hearts so that we can finally experience all the nurturing love he wants to give us and share that love with everyone who depends on us in any way.

  1. Focus On Skill Building—The primary focus of parenting is healing and skill building—learning and teaching the skills we need to be the people God created us to be. When interacting with others, correcting behavior, or making a change, focus on working with the other person to develop the skills necessary to address the problem at hand. What skills or virtues does that other person (or both of you together) need to increase to address the needs or challenges you’re facing? Focus on building the skills rather than simply correcting or criticizing. 
  1. Make God Your Co-Parent—Remember, we are all God’s children first and foremost, therefore, none of us have all the answers. But God does. In good times and in bad, take a moment and ask God, “Lord, how do you want me to respond to this person in this moment? Help me to love them as you love them.” We are not alone, it is important that we turn to our Heavenly Parent in all things. 
  1. Fill The Tank—Parenting is meant to lead us into closer relationship with others and with God. It’s often our reaction to jump right to correction or assumptions about another person’s behavior. It is important as a parent to put relationship first. To connect before we correct. And to ensure that all of our actions put relationship before rules. 

 

For more on seeking the ministry of parenthood, check out:

Parenting Your Kids With Grace

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace

The Corporal Works of Mommy

BeDADitudes–8 Ways To Be An Awesome Dad

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations with Your Adults Sons & Daughters

Learning from Jesus’ Example–How To Deal With Antagonistic People

During this Holy Week, we are reminded of the ways that Jesus confronted and responded to those who antagonized him. We can use His example to help us effectively respond to the antagonistic people in our life, but that may look different than you would expect. 

Theology Of The Body (TOB) reminds us that every person has dignity and deserves to be treated with love–including the people who we experience as antagonistic and unsupportive. But TOB also reminds us that loving people doesn’t mean letting them treat us however they want. Loving someone means working for their good. We aren’t working for another person’s good if we allow them to demean themselves by behaving in a cruel, abusive, disrespectful, antagonistic, or unkind manner. We can’t just do whatever comes naturally–whether that means avoiding conflict or enflaming it. Instead, when we feel attacked, we have to ask God to help us make a response that serves the ultimate good of everyone involved.

Jesus modeled two ways of confronting abusive behavior. Sometimes, when he was clear about the greater good being served–for instance, the salvation of humankind–he patiently bore the wrongs committed against him. But other times, when the greater good required it,–for instance, when the Pharisees intentionally tried to twist his meanings, confuse his message, or undermine his mission–he confronted them. Like Our Lord, we must always respond to antagonistic people with the greater good in mind. Rather than simply reacting, we must bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to respond in a manner that will glorify him, help us be our best selves, and lovingly challenge the antagonistic person to be better. Sometimes that will require us to give them the space they need to self-correct, and other times it will mean being more direct.  With prayer and practice, we can learn to deal gracefully with even the most antagonistic, unsupportive people.

Let’s look at a few practical steps to deal with the antagonistic people in our lives:

1. Take a Step Back--TOB reminds us that, in all things, we are obliged to be loving; that is, to work for the other’s good. But that means different things in different situations. Sometimes, when a person is really working hard to be kind and loving, but they have a momentary lapse, the most loving thing we can do is bear that wrong patiently–to make it safe to make a mistake and self-correct. Other times, when a person is habitually behaving in a manner that undermines their dignity or ours, the most loving thing to do is to admonish them–to set limits that address their offensive behavior. But we can’t always immediately know the right thing to do. That’s why it’s our job to cultivate receptivity. That is, at all times, it’s our job as Christians to step back from the situation we’re in and ask, “What choice does God want me to make that will see to both my wellbeing and the wellbeing of this other person?” The better we can be at asking this question in the moment and responding accordingly, the better we will be at cooperating with God’s grace and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us through difficult relationship situations.

2.  Hold Up A Mirror–People are often unaware of how they are coming across. We might experience someone as antagonistic, or selfish, or hostile, but they might see themselves in an entirely different light. Instead of just reacting out of our perception of a person, we have to first hold up a mirror so they can see how they are coming across. Before you react, say something like this, “Listen, there’s just something about the way you’re coming across that feels really X (hurtful, antagonistic, unsupportive, etc).  Is that what you’re trying to do or am I missing something?” Saying this allows the other person a glimpse of how they are coming across so they can either clarify or change their approach. Doing this is one way we can “bear wrongs patiently” without reducing ourselves to a doormat.

3. Reassess the Relationship–If a person who is close to us persists in being hurtful or offensive, despite our efforts to address the situation charitably, it may be time to reassess the relationship. Ask yourself, “In what situations, or what contexts do I feel safe with this person?” Then limit your relationship accordingly. For instance, what level of service can you continue providing without feeling like you are being treated as an object? Scale back your service to that level. Or, in what contexts does this person tend to behave themselves? (When they’re in public?  When they are on the phone? For an hour or two but not 10?) Restrict the relationship to those contexts where they can handle themselves in a manner that doesn’t undermine their dignity or yours. This way, you aren’t cutting them out of your life–unless there is simply no safe way to be around them–but you are working for your mutual good even though you are having to set a limit. If they complain about the boundary you’ve imposed, simply tell them that you would be happy to remove the boundary as soon as they are willing to take the concerns you’ve expressed to them seriously and change their behavior. What happens next is up to them (whether you maintain the boundaries, or you feel safe to adjust the boundaries). God does not ask us to make relationships work all on our own regardless of how the other person treats us. He merely asks us to be charitable in all we do and make sure that whatever we do is done prayerfully, and with the intention to work for the overall good of the other person, our relationship with them, and ourselves.

If you would like more support dealing with the antagonistic or difficult people in our life, contact us at CatholicCounselors.com. 

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Quick Links and Resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! 

How To Heal Your Marriage

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

Pastoral Tele-Counseling Services

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Quick Links and Resources:

Pastoral Tele-Counselling Services 

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quick Links and Resources:

The Life God Wants You To Have (Book)

What Does God Want Me to Do? (Video)

Tele-counseling

Saint Sebastian Center for Performance Excellence

Spiritual Life Coaching

So This Is Love – How To Have a More Joyful Marriage

Life can get busy and we tend to let the distractions and work of every day life take precedence over our relationships. Although this is a common and often natural tendency, it can really lead to a decrease in the joy and love that we experience in our marriage on a daily basis. 

Working on your marriage is one of the most important ministries a lay person can be involved with.  God wants to use your marriage as a sign of the love he has for his bride, the Church.  

Your marriage doesn’t have to be perfect and problem-free for God to be able to use your marriage this way, but you do have to have to be committed to working together to help each other become the husband and wife God is calling you to be. Doing this work allows God both to satisfy the deepest longings of your own heart for a love that lasts, but it allows God to show the whole world that when two people love him first, amazing things can happen.  

Working on making your marriage more loving, more joyful, and more intimate, isn’t selfish. It’s the role married couples play in God’s plan for saving the world, which is exactly why marriage is a vocation.

Here are three key ways to cultivate a more loving, joyful, and intimate relationship!

1. Meaningful Couple Prayer–God is the source of a joyful marriage and God will teach you to have a more joyful marriage through meaningful couple prayer. Resist the temptation to simply say words at God. Actually bring your marriage to him. You might say something like, “Lord, we give you our marriage today. Help us look for opportunities to cherish each other, to be the spouses you want us to be to each other and to make our marriage a priority.” However you prefer to pray, be intentional about bringing your marriage to God and asking him to teach you how to love each other with the love that comes from his heart.

2. Daily Check-Ins–Take 5 minutes a day to sit down with your spouse, reflect on how close you feel to each other, and suggest one thing that might make you feel just a little bit closer. For instance, you might say, “It’s been a busy day with the kids and I’m just feeling a little disconnected. I’d love it if we could get a walk in this evening?” Or, “I feel great about us, but I miss getting some one-on-one time, let’s plan a date for sometime soon.” Just five minutes a day to reflect on how you both feel about your relationship and what you would both like to do to come a little closer can make the difference between a couple that maintains a strong connection through life’s ups and downs and a couple that slowly drifts apart without even realizing it. Make the time to check in with your spouse for even a few minutes and keep those lines of connection strong.

3. Make Your List and Check it Twice–Want to cherish each other more? Make a love list. Both you and your spouse should write down at least 25 things that make you feel cherished, cared for, and loved.  Simple things like, “I love when you hold my hand.”  “I love when you text me to say ‘I love you.’” “I love when you notice the dishwasher is full and empty it.”  Identify as many simple, loving acts, thoughtful gestures, or caretaking behaviors as you can and write them down. Then exchange the lists. Everyday, make it a point to do at least two simpler things on the list and one thing that takes a little more effort. Try to do something a little different everyday and don’t be slavish about the lists but use them as a springboard that inspires a little creativity.  Your love list will remind you not only that taking care of each other is the most important thing you can do all day, it will remind you that even a little thoughtfulness goes a long way to having a more joyful marriage.

For more ways to live a more joyful and loving marriage, check out For Better… Forever! at CatholicCounselors.com.

Resolving Resentment—Understanding The Hidden Message

Resentment is one of those feelings that can sneak up on us, then overwhelm us. It can make us feel powerless, angry, and sometimes trigger fear. With this mix of emotions, what does resentment really mean?

We often feel guilty about resentment and, of course, resentment isn’t something we want to hold on to.  But the theology of the body teaches that God designed our bodies to work for our good and the good of those around us.  If we learn to listen to the ways God is speaking to us through our bodies–including our feelings–we can hear him guiding us on how best to take care of ourselves and others. All of our emotions–including feelings like resentment–are part of our body’s response to our environment. When united to God’s grace, our emotions can give us important information.  But what could God possibly be saying to us through resentment?  Well, Theology of The Body tells us that healthy relationships are mutually self-donative.  That is, a healthy relationship can only exist when both people are doing everything they can to take care of each other.  Resentment is the feeling we get when we feel like we are doing too much–whether that means we are doing more than our share of a particular task or working harder on a relationship than the other person is. 

Resentment is a warning light on the relationship dashboard that asks us to check if our relationship is really still mutually self-donative or, if somehow, we are allowing ourselves to be treated more like an object than a person. Understood properly, resentment shouldn’t lead us to pout or withdraw, it should lead us to do healthy things like express our needs, or ask for help, or clarify the other person’s intentions, or, when we can’t get the buy-in we’d like from others, we can exercise our right to change our approach even if that means letting go of certain expectations or responsibilities that aren’t healthy to hold on to.  If we deal with our resentment gracefully, it will help us make sure that each person in the relationship is giving as much as they can to protect the health of the relationship and doing as much as they can to look out for the wellbeing of each person in the relationship.

Name the Need–The first thing to do if you are feeling resentful is to identify and name the need that isn’t being met.  Do you need help? Do you need a little TLC?  Could you use help getting a break?  Is there a problem between you and another person that needs to be resolved? Resentment tends to occur when a need sits on the shelf too long and it starts to spoil. Instead of beating up on yourself for feeling resentful, bring your resentment to God. Say, “Lord, help me to name the need that is feeding my resentment and help me to address it in a way that glorifies you and makes my relationships healthier.” Once you know what the need is, you can make a plan to meet it instead of letting it continue to spoil on the shelf, feeding that growing sense of resentment.

Speak the Need–Sometimes, even when we have identified a need, we have a hard time feeling like it’s OK to meet it.  We tell ourselves, “We shouldn’t have to ask for help.”  Or, “I shouldn’t have to say anything about this.”  Remember, the theology of the body tells us that the voice of God speaks to us through our bodies.  If you are feeling resentful, God is asking you to find a healthy, godly way to meet an unmet need and make your relationships healthier and stronger. Trying to talk yourself out of meeting that need is like trying to ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit! Once you’ve identified the need that is feeding your resentment, it’s time to make a plan to meet it. Go to the people around you and say, “I really need your help with X.”  Don’t worry if they aren’t receptive at first. Be confident in the need that God is asking you to address. Remember, healthy, godly relationships are mutually self-donative. Sometimes that means that we have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit to work for each other’s good. That’s not always fun, but it’s always good. Give the people in your life the opportunity to stretch themselves a little for you. Don’t let doubts about others rob them of the opportunity to learn to love you as much as you love them.

Get Help to Meet the Need–Sometimes, even when we have tried our best, getting our needs met can be…complicated. If you find that you can’t stop feeling resentful no matter what you do, or if you are struggling to actually identify your needs in the first place, or articulate them in ways that the people in your life can actually hear and respond to, it’s time to get some new skills. Don’t give into the temptation of thinking that there is nothing you can do just because you can’t figure our what to do on your own. Remember, if God is calling your attention to a need, God has a plan for meeting it. Talk to a faithful professional counselor who can help you learn how to cooperate with God’s plan for meeting the unmet needs that are feeding your resentment.  

If you would like additional resources and support overcoming resentment, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Three Keys for Cultivating Connection

Are you struggling to connect with the people in your life? Sometimes things like differences, disagreements, misunderstandings, or distractions stand in the way of creating connections with the people that we love.

Theology of The Body reminds us that we were created for relationship and that the most important things we can spend our time and energy on is cultivating as much closeness as we can in all the relationships we participate in. People tend to think that “building the kingdom of God” involves doing “big things” for Jesus. Doing projects. Volunteering at the parish. Getting involved.  Those things can be important, but the primary way we’re called to build God’s kingdom is by working to heal the damage that sin has done or wants to do to our relationships. The kingdom of God is discovered in the way we connect heart to heart and soul to soul.

We are destined to spend eternity in intimate union with God and the communion of saints. Doing the work we need to do in this life to make our relationships whole and holy helps to prepare us for that heavenly communion. It’s true that there are some relationships that can’t or won’t be healed or fully realized this side of heaven, but the more we focus our energy on at least attempting to cultivate as much closeness, intimacy, openness, and love  as we can with the people in our lives the more we are preparing ourselves to participate in the ultimate union of heaven.   

Here are three ways to cultivate connection in your relationships:

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Are you struggling with difficult relationships in your life?

Check out:
God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts!

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1. Develop a Relationship Mindset–We are all too busy and most of us tend to focus, primarily, on “getting things done.”  It is certainly important to do good work and accomplish the important tasks that are set before us, but we have to resist the worldly temptation to put things before people–including projects and chores. One of the most important tasks of living an authentically Christian life is cultivating a relationship mindset.  That means, as you go about your day, asking yourself two questions. First, “What small things could I do in this moment to close whatever gap exists between me and the people in my life?” And second, “How can I approach the tasks I need to complete today in a way that lets me be as close as possible to the people I care about?”  These two questions allow us to make continuous micro-efforts to keep people close and fight the temptation to value accomplishments and projects over intimacy and people.  Cultivating connection doesn’t mean that you necessarily have any more time than anyone else does.  It just means that you keep the relationships you have and the people you love in the forefront of your mind instead of in the back corners.

2.  Make Small Steps–We have a tendency to think, “I can’t wait to get this big chunk of time to connect with the important people in my life.  Things will be great then.”  We live for date night, or vacation, or the weekend trip when we’ll get to “really connect.” But we ignore our relationships until then. Cultivating connection isn’t done in big gulps. It’s made of a million little steps. Cultivating connection involves sending those little “I’m thinking of you” texts through the day. Calling just to check in. Making time in the middle of a busy day to do that thing that makes a loved one’s life a little easier or more pleasant or makes them feel cherished.  If you want to be closer to someone you care about, challenge yourself everyday to do something that keeps you close or draws you a little bit closer. Making small relationship steps everyday is a much more effective way to cultivate closeness than hoping to cover the same relationship ground through occasional giant leaps.

3. Remember “A Stitch in Time…”–There is an old proverb that says, “a stitch in time saves nine.”  That means “solve little problems before they become big problems.”  This is a great rule for cultivating closeness in relationships.  Nothing creates more barriers to intimacy than resentment, suspicion, and estrangement caused by the piling up of unresolved problems or misunderstandings. Remember what St Gregory the Great said, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” When it comes to relationships, make sure to clarify misunderstandings before they become problems and resolve problems before they become crises. The more you commit to regular relationship maintenance, the closer and more rewarding your connections will be.

For more resources on cultivating connection, check out our books, videos, and services at CatholicCounselors.com!

Finding Joy – Helpful Tips To Cultivate More Joy In Your Life

Maybe it’s because we often do the same thing day in and day out. Maybe it’s because we are going through a hard time or dealing with a particularly difficult challenge. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know what’s next for us. Whatever the reason, it can often be difficult to find joy in our day to day lives and relationships.

When it comes to finding joy in our daily lives, it’s first important to look at the way that the Theology of the body reminds us of the difference between work and toil. Before the Fall, the work that Adam and Eve did to tend the garden was joyful and fulfilling. It had purpose and meaning, and their efforts literally produced good fruit. After the Fall, because sin knocked the entire world out of order, work became toil. The earth fought back against their efforts to cultivate it. Their work felt like a struggle. They lost sight of the purpose of their efforts. Work became something that divided them instead of making them feel united for a common purpose. This is the basis of losing our joy–when our efforts seem meaningless especially when it comes to our relationships

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Are you looking to discover greater joy and purpose in your life?

Check out:
The Life God Wants You To Have!

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Reclaiming our joy means reconnecting with the meaning and purpose behind what we’re doing and approaching our work and relationships in a way that enables us to feel more connected to God, the people around us, and our own best-selves. Often it takes a conscious effort to step back from what we’re doing and intentionally reminding ourselves why we’re doing it, who we’re doing it for, and what our goal is in choosing to do it in the first place. Then, we need to ask ourselves if the way we’re doing something is really serving those goals.  If not, it’s time to make some changes. God doesn’t want us to settle for grinding our way through the day in our work, life, or relationships. Losing our joy is a sign that we’re starting to settle and that we need to step back, give our situation to God, and ask him how He wants us to approach the work, role, or challenges in front of us.  If we do, his grace will bring the meaning, purpose, and joy back into everything we do.

Here are three ways to cultivate greater joy in your life:

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

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.  

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.  

If you would like to discover more resources to cultivate greater joy in your life, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Rising Up!–Overcoming the Challenges That Weigh You Down

Day in and day out, it seems as though the challenges in life are constantly piling up. Sometimes they’re little, sometimes they’re big, but either way, the challenges we face often feel like they are going to overwhelm us.

It is easy to allow the problems of life to weigh us down and make us feel like “the cross is all there is.”  In our fallen world, the cross is certainly a reality we not only can’t deny, but also need to embrace. That said, Theology of The Body tells us that embracing the cross doesn’t just mean bearing up under it. It means following Jesus up the hill with the expectation that he is leading us to the resurrection that comes after the cross.  If “carrying our cross” just means “maintaining the status quo” OR “consigning ourselves to being miserable and offering it up” then we’re doing it wrong.

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Are you struggling to overcome the challenges that you are experiencing in life?

Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have!

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Theology of The Body reminds us that the Christian–in order to approach life in a healthy, responsible way–has to keep two things in tension at all times: the reality of what is plus the belief that God is always working to make things better.  We have to learn to respond to the problems we experience with the expectation that God is in the process of delivering us from those problems and with the understanding that each of these challenges is an invitation to respond in a way that helps us become more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person we were created to be. God wants to deliver us from our crosses, but while we bear them, he wants us to respond to them in a way that will allow him to transform us into the healthiest, holiest, strongest versions of ourselves. We do that by asking God, “Teach me to respond to this in a way that will glorify you, help me work for the ultimate good of everyone involved, and make me my best self” before we take each, next step.  If we can do this, we can cooperate with God’s grace to both confidently carry our cross, and most importantly, experience the resurrection that comes after it. 

So how do we live this out?

Focus on The Growth—We often feel like our crosses are simply meant to be borne, and because of this, we lose sight of where our crosses can lead us. To combat this tendency, prioritize your focus on the question, “What can I make of this?” Or in other words, “How can I/am I growing from this?” This mindset helps us to become more empowered in our growth towards who God created us to be, rather than getting stuck in the challenges we face along the way.

Remember the Good—It can feel as though our challenges come with more bad than good. From this, we quickly lose sight of the fact that there is any good at all. Rise above this perspective by making a concerted effort to recognize the good that occurs in each day. Maybe you’ll find it in the weather, in your cup of coffee, in the smile from a stranger. But wherever or however you find it, acknowledge the good that is in every day!

Take Care—When we’re struggling with challenges, we tend to forget to prioritize our needs and do the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. Make sure you take small breaks throughout the day and/or week to check in with yourself. What do you need in this moment? A snack? To go for a walk? To take time for breathing or grounding exercises? Time with a family member or friend? Make a conscious effort to acknowledge and meet your needs.

If you would like additional support in overcoming the challenges in your life, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com!