Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Creating Catastrophe







Because many pain medications do not work well for chronic pain, science is looking for a better understanding of how chronic pain works and how to treat it. One significant factor recently seen is that many people who suffer chronic pain have a practice of catastrophizing. This is a tendency to magnify the threat of pain. It is not that their pain is “all in their head” but rather that their head makes their pain worse by fearing it.

I learned this lesson while teaching young children. I suspected that for some children the fear of what had happened, falling and scraping a knee for example, was the real reason behind the tears of pain. In fact, when I addressed that fear the pain was soon forgotten. Whereas, when I did not address the fear and instead only treated the wound, the pain seemed to live on longer than necessary.

Catastrophizing is not just a pain enhancer. It also nurtures anxiety and depression. It does not cause any of these conditions, but it sort of grows pain, anxiety, and hopelessness by focusing on the fear surrounding these conditions. It is as if fear and pain, whether physical or emotional, get mixed together and this action creates more of the problem.

Just like with my former kindergartners, I often have to talk myself out of catastrophizing my worry and pain.

I misread a social cue and fear that someone is angry.

I find a new ache and fear it will grow into pain and prevent me from doing things I love.

I worry over a situation and fear it will never resolve. 

I condemn myself for a mistake and fear it will mark me as stupid. 

I stand up for myself and fear I have destroyed a relationship.

There are days when my head is itself a catastrophe. I don’t like feeling anxious or depressed, but I also know that fear often makes things appear worse than they are.

This all comes back to, what is for me, a familiar theme. In whom do I trust? If I trust myself then catastrophizing is not a misunderstanding of the situation; it is likely an accurate assessment. If I trust God, then catastrophizing only works to chip away at my God-given faith.

Over and over again in Scripture, God brings peace and prosperity out of catastrophe. In fact, given our propensity to muck things up, God has nearly a full time job to fixing, calming, and curing. Certainly we cannot accomplish this on our own. With God we can set aside fear and deal with pain on a fair standing. We can look anxiety, depression, or pain in the eye and know that while these three can attack they cannot defeat. 

Without faith, Jesus' death seems a catastrophe. With faith, we understand the victory. Jesus' victory over death and the devil assures that while we may fight with pain, anxiety, and depression, they will not defeat us. 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing  that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. I Corinthians 15: 56-58




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Headwinds or Tailwinds?



The other evening I listened to an interesting podcast on behavioral research called the Headwind/tailwind asymmetry. The study describes a human miserception that our barriers are always greater than our benefits. It seems that when we are struggling we are very aware of our struggle and wish for the time of trial to be over. But, when we are no longer struggling we can afford to ignore the situation and so we lose awareness of how we may be benefiting from a particular blessing.

This leads to some troubling problems. It leaves us with a sneaking suspicion that others have it better than we do. Other pro teams have easier schedules than our team; the opposing political faction has an easier time of raising money; and of course we all know that our siblings had it easier than we did growing up.

Wait . . . is it really possible that everyone’s sibling had it easier? The research suggests that at least the perception is real.

The other problem this “poor me” attitude promotes is the rationalization for cheating. Apparently the thin line between ethical behavior and cheating gets blurred when one is convinced the deck is stacked. I suspect we just begin to think that minor cheating simply levels the playing field, a bit. Well, it’s only fair, right?

I am thinking the corollary to “God is good. God is good; all the time.” must surely be “Sinners are sinful. Sinners are sinful; all the time.” We have even found a way to turn blessings onto sins. We simply ignore our blessings and pacify our hurt feelings into justification for creating our own blessings.

Next think we know we will be insisting that Lent is all about us. It is about our suffering and our afflictions. This must be true because we seem to be suffering all the time. Yet, Luther reminds us that “We should, therefore, always have an eye on the long list of divine benefactions, both natural and spiritual. Then we shall see that where there is a drop of evil, there is also a veritable sea of God’s benefactions.” 

If we take an accurate account we need only remind ourselves that sin earns us nothing better than constant affliction. Yet, Jesus offers constant grace.

Even when we sin, forgiveness waits for us.

Even when we imagine we suffer ill treatment, salvation has been earned for us.

Even when we find it difficult to love ourselves, God loves us:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:1-5

No, Lent is not about our suffering. In spite of the fact that our suffering is deserved, our God blesses us and stands with us, providing strength and comfort. We have no reason to complain and every reason to rejoice in gratitude. Furthermore, even that gratitude is a blessing given by God.

We are blessed and loved, indeed.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the same, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12: 1-2

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring!




Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
    and righteousness looks down from the sky. Psalm 85:11

Aaaaaachooo! Spring has hit Nebraska; at least the part of spring that I am allergic to. Earlier today I took a walk around my yard to check on the new plants we put in last summer. I am sure my neighbors wondered who I was talking to as I happily greeted each small plant with a word of encouragement.  Spring is certainly springing up out of the ground. Now, if we can just get some good rain from the sky.

Sometimes we can feel like we are being attacked on all sides. Anxiety, depression, and grief seem to greet us around every corner. I know too many people struggling with cancer and I have been to too many funerals, lately. Selfishly, I am a bit concerned about the numbers in my bank account. It is easy for me to give in to what crowds in around me. This keeps me from seeing the blessings in between the challenges.

What I like about this verse is how it describes God coming at us from both sides; faithfulness springing up from the ground and righteousness reaching down from the sky. Like a favorite blanket at nap time, we are tucked in between for peaceful safe-keeping.

God’s faithfulness is seen in His abiding love. It matters not what the winter brought, God’s faithfulness springs up from the ground reminding us of the gift of grace.

God’s righteousness looks down from above and because of the sacrificial acts of Jesus, because of the  forgiveness offered to us each day, God’s righteousness judges us justified rather than condemned.

Yes, I encourage the beautiful grasses, bushes, ground cover, and trees planted last year to grow and fill their space. I look forward to the colors of summer and fall. In this space I also look forward to growing in God’s grace and love.

May this blessing of spring be yours, also; minus the sneezing, of course.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Dust in our Lives

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDb2tckBNh4

If you have ever had a kitten this clip will not be a surprise to you. Kittens try to catch anything they see in order to learn the moves they might need to catch something they can actually eat. It is sort of a feline version of role play. 

As parents, we often see our children doing things we do not understand. Much of child behavior is about learning. They may not always pay attention to what you say, but they are always watching and frequently mimicking what they see. The brain of a child must always try to make sense of the world and practice for what comes ahead.

It’s a parent’s job to be what children practice. And that is a tall order, indeed.

We are often amused and sometimes confused by what children do in their process of learning to be adults. Raising children to be happy, healthy, and honorable is an immense task; especially when we do not always feel those words describe us.

Our ability to be good parents, not perfect parents, but parents who fail and continue to strive to do the right thing, comes from God. When we draw close to God, when He surrounds us like dust, we find He has already blessed us with the wisdom we need.

Seek God, worship Him, and teach Him to your children. 

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! Psalm 111:10