Category Archives: Thoughts from the Office

Hurt versus Harm

No one wants to experience pain. And yet, life seems to be full of times of challenge and difficulty that cause discomfort, anxiety, and yes, pain. Everyday people come into my office because the pain they are experiencing has become more than they feel they can bear. Pain comes in so many different shapes, sizes, and forms. And most of us will do about anything possible to avoid pain. And indeed, there are some pains that must be avoided at all cost. Touching a hot stove is something I only need to do once! This kind of pain is harmful. It warns of danger, but it does nothing beyond that.

Harm-vs-Hurt

However, there is some pain that cannot be avoided so easily and serves a purpose beyond just warning. In fact, there is pain that is actually good for us. For example, sore muscles after lifting weights, burning lungs after a good run, or the discomfort experienced when rehabbing an injury. These situations hurt, but they are good for us. The short term pain results in long term gain. One of my favorite examples of this is concept is the dentist. Eating sugary foods, forgetting to brush, and skipping the floss might feel good for a while but results in cavities causing harm in the long run. Going to the dentist, on the other hand, often hurts, but it is goof for us by keeping our teeth healthy. Sometimes avoiding short term pain, like not going to the dentist, actually causes long term harm.

I avoided the dentist for 5 years. When a rotten tooth finally demanded I go to the dentist, I ended up needing six cavities filled and a tooth implant which required surgery. My dentist and I got to know each other very well! Since that time I’ve kept my regular appointments and have only needed one procedure in the last five years. Now I try to see my dentist at church more than at his office! Here’s the point: hurt is temporary, harm is permanent. Temporary hurt to achieve or maintain health is well worth it to avoid the long term harm. This is true of dentists, of exercise, of health in general. And it is certainly true of emotions as well.

Denial, blame shifting, stuffing, and other ways to avoid acknowledging and dealing with the emotional pain in our lives feels better than facing it head on, but it all too often causes much more harm in the long run. Dealing with emotional pain definitely hurts, but it is the only way to achieve emotional health. One of the truths that I hope and pray all of my clients are able to cling to in the midst of their deepest and darkest times is that the pain will not last forever and that emotional pain is not fatal not matter how overwhelming it may feel. Healing hurts. It just does. Whether it is the pain of working out to lose weight, the pain of a teeth cleaning, recovering after surgery, or facing an emotional wound.

So when life’s emotional wounds seem to big to bear, remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Paul, a man who endured more pain and suffering than most. He was whipped 5 times, beaten three times and stoned once. He was shipwrecked three times, run out of cities, homeless, without food, thrown in jail, and even rejected by his own people. Not to mention the “thorn” he prayed God would take from him that never was removed. Paul knew pain! And yet Paul writes these words, “We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 16-18)

2 corinthians

Temporary hurt in exchange for long term health is a great trade! Momentary troubles that give us eternal glory are well worth it! Yes, we need to avoid the things that harm us, but so often we fail to recognize that hurt is not harm and that harm is actually the result of avoiding hurt. Face the hurt. Deal directly with the pain. It is temporary, it will not overwhelm, and you will come out on the other side better for it.

diamond

Thoughts from the Office: Robin Williams and Dealing with Pain

Some things just seem to shake people up more than others. The news of Robin Williams’ suicide this past week seems to be one of those things. It seems that for many, hearing the news of his death has become one of those moments you never forget, one of those moments that you speak about with the phrase, “I remember where I was when…” I’ve had several of those moments in my life. The first was the Challenger exploding. The Berlin Wall coming down, declaring war on Iraq, and of course 911 are all seared into my memory like a branding iron on an animal’s hide.

robin williams

Honestly, I’m not sure if this will become one of those moments or not, but I do know that I will long remember the way others have responded to this tragedy. I do not often write directly about my life as a counselor, but I assure you that it influences every aspect of my life, including my writing. I learn much more from my clients than they ever learn from me. Each client’s unique story, perspective, brokenness, and road towards healing inspires and challenges my own journey. And so in light of that, let me step out of the norm and share a few thoughts from the office…

Everyone hurts. Pain is a part of life, an unfortunate part, but a part nonetheless. This means that when you are hurting, you are not alone. Others have been there, some are there with you now, and many will be there after you. Even the Bible is full of people familiar with sadness, anxiety, and pain. Elijah begged to die. So did Job. Moses was scared to talk to Pharaoh. David sat in sackcloth and ashes. Remember even Jesus was called the man of sorrows. God knows what you are going through.

Pain is temporary. This one is often difficult for my many chronic clients who have battled depression or anxiety for more days, months, and years than they wish to count. But every new day holds the hope and possibility of a good day. And hope is a powerful thing. Without holding onto the hope of a good day coming with the next sunrise, pain with surely be permanent. Remember, though there may be pain in the night, joy comes in the morning.

Everyone needs help. It always saddens me when I discover how long a client has been suffering in silence before they finally found the courage or reached a place of desperation large enough to make a phone call. We are not meant to walk through life alone and we are certainly not meant to walk through painful times alone. We all need help. We all need support. We all need each other. When you are experiencing times of pain or despair, please reach out. Call a friend, a pastor, or a counselor. Believe me when I say that there are things that can be done to ease the pain the bring joy back to your life.

Be a steward of your pain. Pain is a gift. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a gift. Pain teaches. It points us to places in our lives that need our attention. Pain inspires growth. It allows us to see where change and maturity are required. And when you’ve been through a painful time and come out on the other side, it is a gift to share that victory with others. Allow your pain to make you compassionate instead of jaded, sensitive instead of stubborn, victorious instead of a victim, and patient instead of prideful.

I have read many blogs in the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death. Some advocating for awareness that depression is a disease and needs to be treated as such, some arguing that suicide is a choice and should never been described as anything else. Regardless of beliefs regarding suicide (and I know I have mine), I believe we can all agree on one thing: it is tragic. Please do not allow stigma and shame keep you or a loved one from getting the help and support you need. There are people who care. There are people who are trained to walk with you and give you the tools you need to make it through. There is hope.

hang on

One of my favorite song lyrics says, “Dying is easy, I’ve known from the start, It’s the living that’s the hardest part.”* Jesus promised this would be true! He says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” It would be terribly hopeless if the verse ended there. Thankfully it does not! Jesus continues saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus, the man of sorrows, is also the man of hope and joy. He has overcome the world. He came to bring abundant life (John 10:10). And therein lies the tension on this side of Heaven: the promise of trial and tribulation alongside the promise of abundant life. Someday that tension will be resolved and all those who follow Jesus will receive the treasures they have stored in Heaven and enter an eternity of no more tears, no more sorrow, and no more pain. What a glorious day that will be! Until that day comes, embrace the tension, cling to the hope each new day offers, and choose joy and fulfillment Jesus promises is found in following Him.

john 1633

*Living is the Hardest Part by Rictor www.rictormusic.com

Unexpected Airport Epiphany

th7ZD76YXE

The departure time came and went with no departure. The ticket agent informed the anxious passengers that the incoming plane was delayed due to weather in Chicago. Chicago. I should have known better than to connect in Chicago.  “The pilot will make up time in the air and you’ll land in Chicago just 15 minutes late.” Well, we were an hour late and by some miracle (and a run through the airport terminal reminiscent of a scene from Home Alone) I was the last passenger to walk onto my connecting flight to Charlotte.

Airport

The return trip proved no better. This time delayed in the air, a 35 minute taxi to the gate, Home Alone scene take 2, and a very sweaty second miracle to make the connection. Oh, but this time my luggage showed up a day later. Thank goodness I was home!

All of this reminded me of why I hate flying. It is so annoying, so frustrating, and so tiring. Nothing is in your control. You are at the mercy of everyone and everything else. And in the midst of that helplessness, I was struck by how similar this experience is to real life.

Each morning I awake with no idea what the day will hold and with very little control over what it may bring. There may be delays. There may be bad weather. There may be large smelly men who sit next to you and take the entire arm rest (this really happened). Or there may be a little 9 year old with beautiful black braids and a more beautiful smile traveling with her exhausted grandmother who inspires you to give up your coveted window seat and a chance at a nap in order to learn about her school, her love for PE, and all of the friends she likes to play with at recess (all while blessing said grandmother with a little break). What if I had been too uptight, too frustrated, too annoyed, or too selfish to miss such a beautiful God moment?

There are two kinds of passengers in the airport. There are those who are losing it because they are not in control. And those who have let go because they know they are not in control. Each day we have the same choice.  We choose to lose it or to let go. We choose to be a burden or we choose to be a blessing.  We choose to pretend to control our circumstances or we actually control our response to them.  We simply react reflexively out of raw emotion or we respond thoughtfully out of evaluated emotions. When life feels out of control, we choose to grip tighter or to give it to God.

What do you choose this day? Share a time when you’ve “lost it” and a time you kept your poise by “letting go.”