Willow Creek has Done it Again (part II)

29 12 2010

I just realized that the Willow Creek Christmas message I blogged about is online!  Not quite as powerful watching it on-screen versus being there live, but you’ll get the idea pretty quick.

Check out the link below:
http://beyondsinging.willowcreek.org/2010/12/do-not-be-afraid





Willow Creek has Done it Again

28 12 2010

I left work at the counseling center early to be there, and as the lights dimmed, the music began, and images of Mary and Joseph flashed on the screen, I was glad I did.  The drama unfolded and I was transported into a dark world of anxiety, worry, pain, and fear that matched where I was emotionally at the time.

I felt something in my gut, I was being stirred, and I could tell a storm was brewing.  Tears were a few moments away, and through shortened breaths I sat back and held on tight for the onslaught of emotion.  Mary and the Angel were acting out Luke chapter 1 and fighting back and forth through disbelief, fear, anxiety, worry, and anger.  Mary finally reaches a place of acceptance and submission and saying, “I am the lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

The theme of the Christmas service at Willow Creek Church this year was Do Not Be Afraid -Yeah Right!

Given where I am right now, how could I not be afraid!  I am in a place of taking a huge step of faith and doing things I would not normally do on the belief that I am being prompted by God to do them, and in addition I am supposed to be fearless about it?!?

Through my reactivity, I found myself drawn more and more to Mary, feeling a deep sense of connection with her fear, anxiety, disbelief, and obedience to all that was happening around her. I came to appreciate in a new way the divine orchestration involved in the story of Jesus’ birth:

  • The Wiseman hearing the call and showing up, rallying around Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus showing their respect, admiration, and support.
  • The Angel of the Lord guiding and directing the people to be in the right places at the right time.
  • The raw courage and strength of Mary and Joseph to believe the impossible and act out of obedience and faith rather than out of their own will.

Through my tears I was asking:

  • Would do that in my life?
  • I am that important to God?
  • In what ways is he doing this already?
  • What is going on behind the scenes that I don’t know about?
  • In what areas of my life do I need to choose trust over fear?

After asking those questions and fully feeling my fear, anxiety and worry, a strange thing happened, I felt:

  • Relief– as the angel suggested; I could chose to not be afraid.
  • Joy– being reminded of the complexity of how God works, and how it’s not for me to understand what’s going on, rather for me to be obedient and simply do what I am being asked to do.
  • Peace– I was connected to the story and myself in ways that I had not yet experienced.

Their fear mirrored my own, their experience of being asked to believe and do the unthinkable mirrored my own, and their obedience in the face of great odds mirrored my own.  I was comforted because just as they were ok in the story, so was I.  I had the overwhelming sense that no matter what happens in my life that I have been given or will be given the tools, the resources, and the support around me to grow, thrive, and flourish under any circumstances.  I was fully alive in my fear and knew that the next step in my personal growth is to give and receive love more freely; I felt loved by God after that experience.





The More the Merrier!

21 12 2010

In my Small Group Bible study through Park Community Church in Chicago, I have been reading through Ecclesiastes.  For me that is a challenge.  I don’t always see, hear, or experience the Bible as a life-giving document that inspires me to live a more Christ-like life.  More often I see the Bible as I did growing up- a tool for punishment.  I’ve been reticent to dig into it deeply and yet am starving for the knowledge, wisdom, insight, and healing that it can provide.  I have suspended my fears and just read it.  I’m glad I have, among the many great things I’m learning, the most poignant so far has come from Ecclesiastes 4:8-12.

8 There was a man all-alone; he had neither son nor brother. 
There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” 
This too is meaningless— a miserable business! 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 
10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. 
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone? 
12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. 
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I read the first part and had an, oh crap he’s talking about me moment.  I immediately identified with the man standing alone- working constantly, rarely content and actually depriving himself of enjoyment!  I’ve been living under the mistaken belief that in order for life to have meaning it must be a struggle- not true, well, not entirely true.  Life is hard work and it is hard work that is best taken on in community, with support and not something to be done alone.

As a therapist I have the privilege to be a professional relationship builder, and yet these relationships alone are not enough to keep me filled, supported, and thriving.  I find an immense amount of satisfaction and joy from my work and though people whom I support surround me, I live my life more like the man in the passage.  I am learning to reach out more often for the same level of support in my own life that I offer others on a daily basis.  As the words in the passage suggest, when I am supported and backed up by another my efforts go farther.  I work harder, have someone to help me up when I fall, and I stay warmer- full of life, energy and vitality.

Through my employment at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment I have experienced the value of community and groups.  On faith I have done the unthinkable, and risked pain, rejection, and hurt by getting involved in my own personal growth work receiving group and individual support.  I am allowing myself to trust more than I have in the past and I am seeing the positive effects permeate my life.  I am less concerned with personal failure and utter destruction.  I have instead created for myself, through intention and support, the network of support I need to be constantly growing, learning, and playing in this world.

 





Holiday Hangover

7 12 2010

The first time I ever went out drinking was a day of exploration, fun, and carefree unconscious exuberance.  At the time there didn’t seem to be any consequences, but little did I know what was going to happen the next morning.  Though I wore the headache, irritability, lethargy, and pain as a badge of honor, I told myself I wasn’t going to drink like that again.  Oddly enough, once the hangover subsided and I returned to normal, I forgot my vow and was out at it the next weekend seeking a way to be connected with others yet unconscious and unaware.

Now just as I have been physically hungover and sick from drinking too much, I have also felt an emotional hangover when I spend too much time drinking in painful emotions without taking the time to express them responsibly.  This happens often with my family where I feel a lot, take on a lot, have racing thoughts and feel internally out of control yet appear dead to the world.  The exhaustion this struggle c

reates is breeding grounds for an emotional hangover.  The effects of which sometimes take days to recover from.

When I leave and retreat back to the safety of my apartment in Chicago, I slowly and painfully regain the consciousness I worked so hard to suppress.  I come away feeling so thirsty for aliveness and connection that it hurts.  I literally go through the physical sensations of being hungover even though I haven’t had a drop of alcohol!

The jolt that gets me out of my funk, the water that cures my emotional dehydration, is safety in community.  I had the experience of being jolted into aliveness through the tough support of community encouraging me to leave the mess I wallow in and join society as an alive, functioning, and supportive member.  While I am getting better at recognizing my foul moods, I depend on the support of other people to help me out of them.  When people hold for me the higher vision of being the strong, confident, capable man that I am I can more readily step out of my deadness and awaken to the aliveness of life that is happening all around me.  I choose to participate in the abundance around me instead of walking around in a slump only aware of a very narrow spectrum.

Where disconnection is my alcohol, community is the best cure I know for an emotional hangover.  The desire and drive to connect keep me in check, and where I once struggled with drinking too much my current area of growth is disconnecting too much.  Thankfully through the support of the community at the Center for Christian Life Enrichment, as well as my friends and growth work partners, I am creating the community and the opportunities for the type of authentic connection that are unavailable to me in the grips of an emotional hangover.

I hope you will join me in my efforts to connectand connect authentically by adding to the conversation either online or in person-  Here’s to an emotional hangover-free Holiday season!





Battling Loneliness- The Fight for Intimacy Part I

30 11 2010

How do you fight loneliness? My best friend and I were talking about it the other day. People don’t realize how much time you spend alone; especially if you’re single and/or live by yourself.

 

The above question came from a good friend of mine and in the spirit of the site, AskMerce, I’ll take a crack at it.

Erik Erikson was right when he mapped out the stages of human development.  He labeled the twenties and early thirties as the time where people struggle the most finding love, oscillating between intimacy and isolation.  The successful completion of this stage is built upon the previous stage of identity formation and successfully finding a strong enough sense of self such that you are able to be in a relationship and still be an individual.

Emotional pain and anxiety triggered by feeling isolated and lonely are common to people during this time.  I know personally that I have spent most of my young adult life attempting to avoid or solve the problem of feeling lonely without ever really addressing the feeling head on.  Oftentimes I feel trapped and scared, stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Do I put myself out there and risk rejection in dating, with friends, and by meeting new people?  Or do I remain at home and continue to live a small and isolated life, not really investing in many people and not allowing them to invest in me?

I complain that I want to feel more connected and have more friends, a bigger social network, and to also find that special someone, yet I don’t live my life that way.  I am oftentimes too scared and sometimes overwhelmed to be the type of person I envision myself to be.  I see my best self as engaged, energetic, lively and attractive. When I am living in that space and get the connection and intimacy I am looking for, I set myself up to feel the love that I want to feel in my life.  Sometimes though, that’s the problem, I get what I want.

I don’t always believe I deserve to get what I want.  I act in ways that devalue my hungers so that it doesn’t seem to matter quite as much if I am getting them met.  In reality though, I’m messing with myself. Instead of living through and experiencing that hurt, I am avoiding the pain that not getting what I want stirs.  I end up living unsatisfied and ok with that because it has become strangely comfortable and familiar to be that way.

It hurts knowing I am capable of creating intimate relationships and knowing that I choose not to out of fear, scarcity and hostility.  I get in my own way and blame others for what I have created.  What I am learning though is that not only is this a natural process that people go through, going through it with an increased level of consciousness is helping me to find more satisfaction in my personal life.  I am allowing myself more grace and compassion- I am not as hard on myself as I once was.  I am beginning to see that in order to be more fully intimate with another person, I need to be more fully intimate with myself.  Through self-discovery and knowing more of what makes me tick, I have more of myself to consciously and authentically offer in relationship with another person.  Almost paradoxically, spending time doing my own personal work empowers me to be more fully present with another person, and taking the learns I get from my own growth work back to my personal relationships enriches and nourishes the bond between the two of us.

Check back on Thursday to hear some more thoughts on specific step you can take to avoid loneliness and maintain a deeper sense of connection and intimacy, especially during the holiday season!