Please, Complain Some More

A funny thing happened over on facebook the other day.

I posted a status that was somewhat serious, but also a little playful.

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I ended with, “Asking for a friend,” because I was wanting to use humor as an outlet for the stress and anxiety I was experiencing.

Because life is funny. I know I am not in control. I know I have a large group of people to go to when I am feeling afraid or sad or stressed. I have a good prayer life. My wife and I (usually) talk about things when we are feeling overwhelmed.

Yet in spite of all of that, I still feel the stress and fear that everyday life can bring. And although one facebook post to my friends does not qualify as a scientific study, I think I can safely say you do, too.

I was blown away at the response my status received. Not because I was surprised at the number of people who were encouraging me and praying for me. But I was mostly surprised at how many people acknowledged feeling the same way.

Added to that was the wide variety of people commenting on my status. We have lived in three states over the past 10 years. People from all of those places commented. Some are friends from childhood. Some are past co-workers of my wife. Some are my past co-workers. Some are friends I was in college with. Some are family members. Some are friends I have known for less than a year. Some attend the same church we do. Some are shepherds (elders) of that church. Some have had similar experiences. Some have had similar emotional experiences but triggered by different life circumstances.

We all know what it is like to deal with difficulty. With stress. With anxiety. With fear. We all know the inner turmoil of wanting to give up completely while at the same time wanting to fix every single problem.

Yet still I was astounded at the response my simple little facebook status received.

And then my friend, Sean (read his great blog here), posted a facebook status: “Many churches I know have a praise band. No church I know has a lament band…and the world is worse for it.”

And then it clicked. Most people have the experience that I described in my post. But most people have been trained to suck it up. We have been told not to complain. We believe we need to get over it.

We think lamenting is wrong.

But it’s not. I lamented and received strength. I cried out and was heard. I groaned and others groaned with me; and gave me the opportunity to groan with them.

So today, I give you permission:

Complain. Groan. Whine. Bitch. Moan. Let it out. Do not get over it. Do not keep it to yourself until you feel better.

Let’s hear it. What’s going on? What do you need to lament about?

You can even tell me you’re asking for a friend.

Breaking Out Of Isolation

Why do we isolate?

In times of grief, sometimes our first thought is to crawl into a figurative hole and cry by ourselves. We do this by binge watching TV while eating a gallon of ice cream. We do this by going to the bar and drinking until our card is maxed out. We do this by driving for miles and miles and hours and hours until we cannot afford the gas anymore. We refuse to answer the phone. We pretend we don’t hear the doorbell ring. The thought of church or parties or social events makes us sick to our stomach.

And the causes of our grief are numerous:

  • Death of a family member or friend
  • Loss of a job
  • Being a victim of abuse
  • A partner leaving
  • Being betrayed by a someone who was trusted
  • Struggling with depression, addiction, or other mental illnesses
  • Health scares
  • Moving to a new home

You can probably add more to that list. It is a fascinating truth of the human experience that although we are social creatures our first reaction in times of grief or extreme stress we often isolate.

Three things have happened this week in my immediate and extended family that were all stressful as well as being reasons to mourn. There was a time when I use to drown my feelings; hoping to forget and numb. Today, however, I fully experience all the emotion that comes with the various challenges life throws my way. And along the way, I have realized that I have learned some important behaviors; some actions I can take to keep from isolating.

First, I ask for prayers from other people. There are people in my life whom I trust. I know they are people of prayer. I go to them and ask them to pray for me. Because sometimes, I don’t have the words to speak. You may or may not be a person of prayer or faith. Let me recommend that you still find those who are and ask them to pray for you. Beyond the spiritual component of prayer, knowing that there are trustworthy, loving people caring for you can be a vital step in overcoming isolation.

Second, I talk to my partner. There was a time in my life when my wife did not hear what was going on in my life. Because I wouldn’t tell her. Now I do. You may or may not be in a committed relationship. If you are, part of that commitment needs to be sharing extreme joys and extreme pains. Intimacy demands openness. If you are not, I ask you to consider who your closest friends or family members are. Find that one person you can tell anything to and, well—tell them anything! And everything! We must speak out to others to avoid the temptation to go off and be by ourselves.

Third, I continue with my scheduled activities. This may not seem like a big deal, but it really can be. Being sad does not mean I should cancel my social activities. Being nervous is not a good excuse for missing work. Avoiding my friends’ or children’s activities will not make me better. I do understand that sometimes, our physical condition calls for rest and relaxation. Often, however, we are better off continuing with our schedules. If we don’t, we isolate. We hide. And we just make ourselves worse.

Are these suggestions a cure-all? No.

Are these suggestions the key to health, wealth, and success in all you do? No.

Will they cure your depression? No.

So why offer them? Because they are steps you can take to avoid isolating. When you are in the midst of grief, despair, or stress one of the worst things to do is isolate. Isolating potentially separates you from people who care about you. Isolating allows you to over-analyze with no other voices speaking into your life. It allows you to stay unchecked in your misery.

To break the burden of isolation, you need to find those few people who can keep you from being totally alone. Break the cycle of negative self-speak. Break the cycle of turning inward.

Find people to pray, share with your closest friend or partner, and do what you are scheduled to do.

And if you don’t who to begin with, email me: pdm95k@acu.edu

That will keep me from isolating, as well.

My Name Is Paul And I Am An Alcoholic, Step 11

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. (Although, November’s post is coming 4 days late!) This month is Step 11. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out” (Step 11).

“We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day, ‘Thy will be done.’ We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 87-88).

“In AA we have found that the actual good results of prayer are beyond question. They are matters of knowledge and experience. All those who have persisted have found strength not ordinarily their own. They have found wisdom beyond their usual capability. And they have increasingly found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of difficult circumstances” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 104).

12 Step meetings are literally covered in prayer. And most of the attendees have differing conceptions of God. But they all believe there is a Power outside of themselves that is necessary to continue with recovery.

Most AA meetings begin with the Serenity Prayer and end with the Lord’s Prayer. When reading the two primary texts of AA literature, Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, you will find a number of prayers included; prayers which AA members are encouraged to read, reread, and recite.

In order to achieve and maintain sobriety, recovering addicts must be convinced that they can no longer run their lives on self-control. Doing that led to the addiction in the first place. The only way to break out of a life run on self-will is to spend time in prayer. 12 Step group members will attest to the power of prayer in their lives. They will talk about the strength they found that they never had before. Even AA members who have not figured out all there is to know about God will be people who believe in the power of prayer.

Churches have a lot to learn from 12 Step groups in this area. Which is interesting. Most 12 Step group prayers are prayers from Christian leaders throughout the centuries, yet 12 Steppers often seem to grasp the need to speak these prayers more quickly than church members.

I believe there are three things we need to know about AA as it relates to Step 11 and prayer.

First, AA is not competing with your church. AA, as well as other 12 Step groups, is not a denomination. It is not trying to be a denomination. 12 Step groups have one purpose: to live life sober. The founders of AA recognized the need for acknowledging the spirituality of recovery. In fact, Bill Wilson was active in his church and included a lot of Christian language in his original writings. The early members of AA realized that recovery was needed for people outside the Christian religion, so the language was changed to be more inclusive. AA is focused on recovery.

Second, AA is not an evangelistic organization. I do not actively recruit people to join AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, or any other 12 Step group. If you tell me about someone you know whom you believe to be an addict, I will talk with them. I will let them know about meetings I go to. I will tell them how AA has helped me in my life. I will give them my phone number and encourage them to call me. But I will not tell them they are an alcoholic. I will not pursue them until they agree to come to a meeting with me. All I can do is say, “There is help.” I can share my story. I can even share how my own spiritual journey is intertwined with my recovery journey. But I will not try and convince someone of something they must come to an awareness of on their own.

Third, people who have hit rock bottom know the need for prayer; follow their example. Those who are in recovery have previously lived lives based on self-will. We have tried to do everything on our own. We have gone through the motions of family, friendship, and religion. Sometimes, we have even attained success in life while destroying our bodies. We know what it means to do things based on our will. In order to recover, we have learned (we had to!) to pray, “Thy will be done.” We have learned to ask for help. We have learned to look outside of ourselves in order to be successful at life. We have learned that success in life cannot come without sobriety. Money, prestige, and fame mean nothing if one sacrifices their own life to attain it. The person in recovery knows the only way to maintain sobriety is to start and end every day with prayer; while also praying non-stop throughout the day.

When a person in recovery reaches the 11th Step in their recovery journey, they will be a person of prayer. They will be a person of peace. He or she will know that everything will not always be good, but that they will always have a place to go when things are bad. There is a lot Christians can learn from recovering addicts:

We don’t have it all together. So we pray.

Rest For My Overactive Mind

“Find rest in God alone.”

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I am struggling. I want to be accepted. I want people to like me and support me. I want there to be no conflict. So when I know something is going on that will potentially upset others, I try to figure out what my response will be to their (imagined) reactions.

Because I just can’t live my own life. I have to live my life in such a way that everyone, everywhere, will love me all the time. That’s realistic, right?

I know something you don’t know. And if you knew it, you might be mad at me. You might think you need to fix me. You might look down your nose at me. So let me just keep it to myself.

Do you have any idea how fast my mind can operate? Do you know how many things I can think at one time? My mind is a scary place to be. I am thinking about my problem. I am thinking about everyone’s potential response to my problem. And I am thinking about my response to those potential responses.

Totally normal, right?

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I sat on my pastor’s couch and said I am overwhelmed. I cannot even state in words all the thoughts that are swirling in my head. He asks me to consider the trajectory of my life over the next 10 years.

My initial thought is, “Are you kidding? I’m freaking out about the next 10 minutes!”

But my second thought is, “Wow. That just might work.”

Maybe I don’t need to know what everyone thinks or feels about my life. Maybe I don’t need to prepare for others’ reactions.

Maybe I just need to know what God wants me to do with my life.

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I seek for rest from my people-pleasing thoughts: Agree with me; Understand me; Accept me.

Why am I seeking something eternal among the temporary?

If I am going to stop focusing on what is in front of me (real and imagined) and start focusing on God’s trajectory, how will I do that?

“Find rest in God alone.”

First, I will find a word. My word is peace. I silently pray, “Peace.” Over and over. Repetitively. Slowly breathing. Calming. Peace.

Second, I listen for God. I listen through memory. What has God done in my life already? What have I read, experienced, felt, worshipped before?

I listen through perception. How is God present in my life right now? What is God doing? How is God acting, moving, this very day?

I listen through silence. Sometimes, I listen and hear nothing. And that is okay. Just like at night when I look in on one of my children or my wife. I watch them sleep. I hear nothing. But it is one of the greatest sounds ever.

Third, I reflect on the written word. I read the Bible. I read my favorite authors. I read (or listen) to sermons I have heard before.

I find rest in God. God will direct my life, not other people. And definitely not myself.

My mind is running.

But God is calling me to rest.

“Find rest in God alone.”

Prayer Is…

Prayer is not magic.

Prayer is not a Christmas wish list.

Prayer is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Prayer is not a way to shape God into our image.

Prayer is saying, “God, I cannot do this.”

“God, I need you to walk with me through this.”

“God, I do not understand this.”

“God, I am scared.”

I do not always get what I ask for when I pray.  Yet I will still pray.  Because The One to whom I pray is never absent.  The One to whom I pray is ever-present and ever-comforting.  The One to whom I pray never leaves me alone.

“I lift my eyes to the hills.  Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven of earth.”