Tag Archives: CatalystWest

Ride that Wave!


Emotions are king in our culture. We write love songs while we look for love; we pursue happiness with everything we’ve got. We avoid painful feelings by shopping, eating, drinking, having sex, watching TV or wasting time. When we have good feelings, we hold on to them for dear life, often pursuing them in ways that don’t bring lasting contentment. Most of the clients who come to me start by saying they either want to “be happy” or “get rid of” some bad feeling.

If you think about the way God created the world, there is a lot of ebb and flow – the sun rises and sets; the tide goes in and out; the moon is a sliver and then it’s full. Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4 says “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven; a time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” Our emotions are meant to ebb and flow. If we desire healing and emotional growth, every emotion should be fully experienced. God understands and loves for us to pour out our hearts to Him, in the midst of our experiences, whether they be good or bad, happy or sad.

We see a great picture of this while reading the Psalms. In Psalm 88, it says “I am forgotten, cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me.” (Vs. 5-7). Here the psalmist is expressing some deep, dark and painful emotions both about God, and to him. A few chapters later, we read “You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done! O Lord, what great works you do!” (Ps. 92:4-5). Now, the psalmist (a different author) is rejoicing with great and wonderful joy. This isn’t instability of character. Rather this is God preserving emotion in his Word to show us that He can handle all of our emotion as we experience our lives. Again, not all behavior is beneficial, but God loves honesty about how we are feeling.

So what do we do about all of these feelings? If we use the metaphor of ocean tides, instead of getting rid of emotion we think is negative, why not find a “surfboard” so that riding the tides of our emotion becomes an adventure? If you are sitting on your surfboard in the ocean, you can sit there through many large waves before you actually choose to stand up and surf one. You also might be sitting on calm seas one day, and getting knocked off your board and thrashed around on another! This is all part of the experience of surfing. A surfer understands that the waves are not at his beck and call – he will have varying conditions. The one stable resource he has is his board.

One of the primary steps in learning to work with emotion, then, is to observe it and feel it without impulsively acting upon those feelings; this is your surfboard. What would it be like to become angry at poor customer service and not complain or make a scene – simply as an experiment to observe the rise and fall of what anger feels like in your own body. For most of us, the behavior that follows our emotion (like yelling when you are angry) comes so quickly that we tend to think we can’t control it. Feelings and thoughts are inextricably linked and difficult to separate, but behavior is an entirely different thing. It is possible to be fully angry and not respond angrily. It is possible, if you found yourself having feelings for someone outside your marriage, to experience those feelings without acting upon them.

Think of it as a scientific experiment: How long would anger remain in your mind and body if you simply observed it and watched it rise and fall without buying into it or attaching your thoughts to any particular part of it? If you were curious about it but didn’t feed it all of the evidence about why you think you are justified to behave poorly? You can do this with any emotion, and for each person it will be altogether different. For me, anxiety might be brief and tolerable, but sadness almost unbearable. For you, observing anger might feel completely impossible but experiencing loneliness is ok. It’s a life-changing shift to realize that not everything you feel needs to be acted upon.

EXERCISE: Take a look at this list of emotions. Pick a couple that are uncomfortable for you but not unbearable. Practice dedicating yourself to simply experiencing this feeling without doing anything about it. How long does it last? Where do you feel it in your body? Ride the wave as it crests and recedes. Later, you can choose more difficult emotions, but commit to working on this one emotion at a time.

 *Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*

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Thoughts on Unity

I know, this is a blog about counseling – hang with me, and I’ll circle back. Because of how the inception of this blog happened, I feel like unity is a good topic to begin (again) with.

I grew up in a church that believed in unity – we believed in unity so much that we sometimes sacrificed truth to attain unity. In this legalistic group, we dressed the same, we looked the same, we talked the same and we all held the same values (except we secretly didn’t). So unity is a tough topic for me. The overarching message of my life has been “shut your mouth to preserve the unity”.

So I like to flippantly say “unity is not one of my values” – or at least that it falls way below telling the truth and standing true to my beliefs. I love the fact that we do not all look or sound the same at my church. I love the variety and color of the Body of Christ. I think any healthy church will be a cross-section of such a variety.

But of course, unity is one of my values, and must be, because it was important enough for Christ to expound upon on the evening of his death. But what does it mean that we all “be One”? How can my toe and my ear be one just because they are in one body? What exactly were Jesus’ own values about unity? He certainly did not believe in biting his tongue to preserve the peace or avoid conflict. He didn’t sugarcoat the truth in order to keep from hurting anyone’s feelings. But those who truly encountered him didn’t think “rabble-rouser” – they thought “love”.

But – and here’s where the counseling part comes back in – when we equate unity with the idea that in order to fit in – in order to be perceived as appropriately Christian – I have to say what everyone else is saying and be where everyone else is on the journey, I think we cause a great deal of unnecessary pain in the church.  In this environment it is an easy next step to “I have to hide my true self”.  If someone leaves a service thinking “everyone else has got this and I’m just messed up” then our incorrect view of unity – that we all have to be alike – has caused even further division.   Unity doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything. There are many, many issues where two Christians can differ – read Romans 14 (preferably in The Message version) for context.

Folks, unity is love. It’s not feeling the same about issues. It’s not looking the same, or having the same jargon. It’s love. One place where you can find unconditional love that leads to healing is in the counseling office of a solid therapist – someone who can hear you and see you without any judgment or opinion about who you should be, but appreciate you for who you are and who you can become. Another place you could find it is in the Church, if we would all just drop the judgment and arm ourselves with love.

*Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*


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Broken Hearts Club

I’ve just returned from the Catalyst West conference and this blog is the result. I traveled to the conference with the Leadership Team from my church, and we were asked two heavy questions by Andy Stanley, the pastor of North Point Church.

  • Who are you?
  • What breaks your heart?

And the implied third question:

  • What in the world are you going to do about it?

As I discussed my answer to this question with my team, I noticed that my answer changed, morphed, grew and sometimes faded.  So I realize I need a platform to refine and shape my answer more clearly.  After all, how can I do something about a problem I’ve not defined well?

As I stated on the About Me page, I’m the Care Pastor of my local church, but I’m also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  What breaks my heart is how many Christians don’t get counseling and don’t see the value of counseling.  And when they do go to counseling, it’s often terrible counseling — a whole lot of “Christian” with not a whole lot of “counseling”, either because the counselor is poorly lay trained or poorly professionally trained.

Here’s the problem as I see it, and I’ll dive into these deeper in future posts.  Pastors preach about the power of our Living God to live within us and change our lives.  This is right and true that they would do so.  And our God does live within us and He does change lives.  But the “how” is often vague.  So then Christians who love Jesus leave church on Sunday privately feeling like maybe something is wrong with them, maybe they are not plugged into God’s power appropriately.  Maybe there’s something wrong with their internal USB connector, the signal is not quite getting through.  But to ask for help or go to counseling would be an open admission that they don’t know how to make these changes.  Or worse, maybe they will even be judged as being “works” based because they are trying to figure out how to change instead of just “letting” God change them.

So what are we left with?  We are left with a church where pastors and their church attendees alike have to pretend for all they’re worth that everything is ok.  That they’re getting victory when maybe they’re not.  We know we’re broken, and we even say we’re broken.  But to go to counseling would be an open admission that we are broken.  And no one wants that!

Then, if a Christian finally gets up the courage to go to counseling, they often see their pastor for counseling or a lay “counselor” or mentor at their church.  There’s a place for this, and I have a couple of really good examples of where this has worked.  But discernment is required to figure out if those are good choices, and a desperate Christian trying to keep their broken-ness on as much of a lowdown as possible probably isn’t asking all the right questions.  And even when a licensed counselor gets the case, most Christians won’t go to anyone but a Christian counselor – again, without asking themselves why they are making this distinction or if this person is the right fit for them, regardless of labels.

I’ve got a pretty big field to tackle here, with my broken hearted issue.  I want counseling to be a first resort, not a last.  I want Christian broken-ness to come out of the closet, to see daylight and seek real healing.  And I want it to be done in the most professional and skilled way possible.

*Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*

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