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Improving Your Health Through 3 Types of Relationships

John Donne is credited with a meditation that includes this often cited line, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”

This quote reflects the inter-connectedness of all humanity and how false it is to consider your own life and choices apart from the whole. Along these same lines, a model of therapy known as Reconciliation Focused Counseling submits that healthy individuals are connected in three relational domains: to God, to oneself, and to others. The higher degree of connection in these three types of relationships, the healthier a life an individual will enjoy.

This concept is also reflected in Jesus’s own words in Mark 12:30-31 and several other places throughout scripture,  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

In this verse we again see the three types of relationships noted…love for God, love for neighbor, love for self. The bottom line is this: the higher degree of connection in each of these three types of relationship, the healthier the person. Today I want to show you what connection in each of these relationships looks like, and provide a way to assess your own degree of connection in each area. As a bonus, this is a great tool to asses how you can target encouragement in the lives of those around you as they purse health and fullness.

Let’s look at what a strong connection looks like in each type of relationship.
Connection to God:
Hallmarks of a strong connection with God begin with things you can observe. Do you spend time in prayer with God? Do you attend church? Do you read the bible? But connection with God also goes so far beyond these easily observable traits. Do you feel like you have the right to talk to God? Are you angry or frustrated with him over something? Do you feel like you have to earn the right to be heard by God or accepted by him? Do you sense disappointment from him? The list could go on but the main idea here is; do you enjoy God and look to involve him in your life? Resting in the love of God is the picture of a rich connection with God. Everybody has room for improvement in this area, but some have more trouble than others when it comes to resting in God’s love for us.

Symptoms of not connecting well with God: this can look like anxiety because a lack of trusting in God’s goodness (note: this is not the source of everyone’s anxiety), anger problems, a melancholy disposition because you don’t believe that God has your best in mind. Aside from relational friction with God, some people just don’t connect with God at all and aren’t sure what the point would be. To this point I would say that all of the happiness research of recent years indicates that connecting with something bigger than yourself is imperative to health and happiness, and beginning to incorporate God into your life could be a rich source for strength, balance, meaning and love.

Connection to Self:
Hallmarks of a strong connection with self look like awareness of your own emotions and a lack of self-judgement. People who experience a strong connection with themselves know what they are feeling and often why they are feeling that way. They don’t stuff emotions down, ignoring them. And they don’t make too much out of their own experiences either (idolatry). They give themselves permission to be human and enjoy the freedom that brings.

Symptoms of not connecting well with yourself can either stem from under-connection or over-connection.  Under-connection with self looks like not checking in with yourself or being aware of your feelings. You just keep your head down and trudge through life. This generally leads to symptoms of depression. Over-connection with self often presents like anxiety or self-centeredness. You’re too connected with yourself and sensitive to everything that comes your way in a day or what might come tomorrow.

Connection to Others:
Hallmarks of a strong connection with others look like having a few people that you can count on, who know you well, and who you make an effort to support in their lives as well. You feel both known and loved, and feel like you know and love a few others as well. The importance isn’t placed on the number of people who you know and who know you, but on the depth of connection.

Symptoms of not connecting well with others can again fall into the categories of under- or over-connection. If you’re under-connected with others, you have a very limited social support that probably involves surface level communication with those you come into contact regularly. You may make conversation with the people in your life but you don’t feel like anyone really knows what goes on internally for you. Over-connection with others is also problematic because you can make an idol out of a relationship(s) in your life. The lines are blurred between where you stop and where another begins. You may feel taken advantage of or like you don’t really understand how boundaries and relationships really work.

So how does this apply to you? Maybe as you read, you already sensed some feedback regarding which type of relationships are strengths for you or which needs to be strengthened the most. Be responsible with that feedback and begin to make a plan to increase the quality of connection in that area of your life.

Do you have an area of under or over connection in your life? Do you need some help removing roadblocks to a particular relationship? Does looking at your life through the three relational domains help bring any clarity? Are you looking for resources in how to best strengthen a relationship? I’m here to help! Please always feel free to contact me with questions like this or anything else!

Check back soon for how the order of the three types of relationship is no accident, how and why self-love can be unfortunately overlooked, and how the relational domains are all inter-connected.

Are You Spiritually Hangry?

Urban Dictionary defines “hangry” as: When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both. So what does it mean to be “spiritually hangry?”

Although you may not be familiar with the term (because I just made it up) I suspect that most of us have been there before. Other terms for this experience are “spiritual dryness,” “a crisis of belief” or “a dark night of the soul.” When you are wanting to hear from God about a given topic, or even to feel acknowledged by him at all, but just can’t seem to get anything back from him, and you become frustrated and you feel isolated…you become spiritually hangry.

After I graduated from my masters program, I felt like I was supposed to move to Baton Rouge from New Orleans, rather than return to St. Louis, MO, where I’m from. I had a place to stay for free but no job and no good contacts in my profession to speak of. I sent out resumes to anyone that sparked my interests at all. I got the most frustrating feedback on the planet, “your resume and references are literally the best we’ve ever seen, but we don’t have any spots available at this time.” I finished school in May and it was a long seven months of little to no income before I finally had a full-time job offer. During that time, I questioned if I had heard correctly from God in moving to Baton Rouge or even in choosing the vocation of counseling. I even experienced an earth-shattering loss during that season. And to boot, I watched my car get hit one morning while eating my breakfast. I couldn’t win for losing and there was little light in the darkness. On lots of days, it was the best I could do to find enough structure in my life to keep depression at bay.

Have you ever been so hungry for hearing something from God for so long that you start to get angry about it? If you were just regular hangry, you could just hurry up and go get something to eat. But there’s not a lot of room for “hurry up” when it comes to God. So what is it that we are supposed to do when we get spiritually hangry?

When you start to feel moody about your relationship with God, it can complicate things in your head pretty quickly. You can start to over-analyze, shut down, doubt yourself and doubt God. You doubt if God exists…if he’s on your team…if he sees what’s going on…if he cares about what is unfolding in your life…if he has the answers and he’s just not telling you for some reason. The list could go on and on! You can see how someone might get in a bad place pretty quickly if they feel like they really need something from God but can’t get to it for whatever reason.

So what should you do if you find yourself in a place of being “spiritually hangry”?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself that may bring you some clarity, fresh perspective, but most of all…Hope.

  • Besides the topic that is frustrating you, what else is really working in your life? Make a list.
  • What credit can you give yourself that you’re hungry for hearing from God at all? What does that say about you?
  • Have you written out your request or concern to God? This is no magic trick, it can sometimes provide clarity about your own desires when you slow down and have to put pen to paper.
  • Is there anyone you feel like you should “bring into the loop” to pray with you regarding your experience or request?
  • What’s the last thing you heard clearly from God?
    • Follow up question: did you walk that out? (If the answer is no, that’s the place to pick up).
  • In 20 years, what do you think you’ll look back and understand about God’s silence on the matter?
  • What if you never hear back from God on this topic? What’s the next logical thing you could do?
  • What does God’s (perceived) non-communication say about your value to God?
    • If there’s anything on that list that you suspect your best friend or God wouldn’t say about you, it’s probably not true.
  • What does God’s (perceived) non-communication say about God’s power and involvement in your life?
    • If there’s anything on that list that you suspect someone you trust and respect wouldn’t say about God, it’s probably not true.

This list is not meant to frustrate you further but to hopefully get your gears turning about new perspectives on your season of “spiritual hanger’.  If this post stirs up more questions than it answers, please feel free to contact me here.

Blooming Where You’re Planted: Reflections on Contentment

Flower-pots-White-Dipped

During our wedding, some friends of ours sang the Rita Springer song, “If You Say Go.”

The chorus goes as follows:
If you say “go,” we will go. If you say “stay,” we will stay. If you say “step out on the water,” and they say, “it can’t be done.” We’ll fix our eyes on you, and we will come.

How exciting! That song made us feel brave and bold in believing for huge things that would defy the odds! On that day, we committed to follow God together for a lifetime, wherever He may lead. We were open to anything…foreign or domestic. Whatever God had for us, we were ready. (And, for the record, we still are.)

 

Flash forward several years later, and we still live in the same house we came home to after our honeymoon. Same couch. Same appliances (thankfully! Knock on wood…). Same bed. I even have some of the same clothes! But…Chad won’t let me wear them. 🙁 What was once shiny and new is now broken in and familiar.

The idea of being led by God to somewhere new often seems very appealing, romantic, and brave. A new adventure! A new challenge to conquer! In comparison, staying can just seem so…stale. Mundane. Boring. And honestly, who wants that to be the hallmark of their life?! Blooming where you’re planted doesn’t quite have the appeal as forging uncharted territory.

Most of the days of our lives in any given season will look largely the same, sun up to sun down. For instance, in the season of life that I’m currently in, I do pretty much the exact same thing every Monday. Wake up, get our son set up for the morning, get Chad off to work, pick up our house, do some laundry, go to the grocery story, fix lunch, wrestle a toddler down for a nap, write a blog, start dinner, welcome Chad home, go see my evening clients, come home and watch The Bachelor (because we have a taste for trashy TV at our house). Ta-da! It’s almost as exciting to live as it was to read. (Just kidding…I actually enjoy Mondays usually!)

Recently I’ve been challenged by that song again. Can the “staying” feel as brave and bold as the “going”? I want to always champion obedience above the thrill of “new.”  (Not that they are at all mutually exclusive.) Staying or going…new or same…that’s not the most important factor. Obedience is what matters. It’s about faithfulness. Obedience and faithfulness in where we are, with what God has put on our plate. It’s as simple as that.

What about you? Do you ever get caught up in looking for something outside of the reality of your life to give you excitement? Do you struggle with laying hold of the “bloom where you’re planted” mentality? I whole-heartedly believe that untold riches lie beneath the surface if you can dig deep and really engage in this current season of life.

If you want to be more faithful with what’s before you in this season of life, here are a few ideas.

  • Focus on the pockets of excitement in your day. Going to Walmart: not my cup of tea. But I really enjoy several of the other activities of my day, and so I make it a point to look forward to those and not fall prey to negative self-talk in the more mundane tasks. Negative self-talk will really wreck your sense of satisfaction in life.
  • Engage with God in how to help life on earth be more reflective of his kingdom. Who do you (or Could you) run into on a regular basis that could really benefit from a bit of heaven coming to earth through some practical means? Plug-in more deeply to the lives of those around you…friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members. If you feel bored with your life, it’s probably because you’re not very engaged in the lives of others.
  • Look beyond external circumstances as bringing invigoration to your life, and draw closer to the Father of adventure. If you feel like you have a heart for adventure but you’re not having access to it in your daily life, ask God to surprise you…in the season of life that you’re currently in. This may most simply start with praying more.

If you ever want to discuss this topic or any other more fully, I can be reached here.

 

 

Love Your Man Well This Valentine’s Day

Ladies…let’s be honest…on Valentine’s Day, our gender comes out on top. Most of pop-culture’s energy is geared at the women being the main recipients of the planning, attention, gifts and thoughtfulness of February 14. While that’s all fine and good, and I hope you are appreciated on this day and the 365 other days this year, I’d like to take a minute to discuss how we, as women, can love our men well on this special occasion. Here is a list of ways you can give your man the kind of adoration he really needs from you on Valentine/s Day.

  • Be extra gracious in appreciating his efforts to love on you. Even if it’s the restaurant you go to all the time. Even if it’s not your favorite type of flower. Even if you’re on a diet and he brought chocolates. Be as thrilled with his efforts as you were when you started dating. Even if you question how much he’s trying! In this way, you are reminding him that he can make you happy AND increasing the odds that he’ll try again soon. Dig deep and judge not!
  • Go out of your way to make his day smooth and convenient for him. Men tend to interpret this as a sign of respect and care. Brew his coffee. Pack his lunch. Have his favorite shirt ready. Find his keys before he asks. This type of “help” is often what men anticipate from a “help mate.” And, as in a lot of things, getting back to basics never hurts.
  • Show him preference. Whether it’s preference above yourself, above your kids, above housework, above your employer…however you can do it…make it clear that you value him first. There are a million tiny ways to do this and I’m sure a few come to mind even now. It’s a small shift that I guarantee he’ll notice. This tends to be a need that men have that they find difficult to articulate, but that comes up in counseling quite often as something they deeply desire.
  • Mind your tone and curb the criticism. While having a sharp tone and being critical are entirely different behaviors, they seem to erode men’s motivation in a similar way. Both are habits that require awareness and self-control to break, and if you struggle with these, you won’t see transformation in just one day. But if you make an effort to increase your awareness (consider inviting him in on your new goal!) and softening things up a bit, your energy will most certainly be noticed. I feel myself stepping up to a soapbox, but I’ll save the rest for a different post! The bottom line is: men just want their women to be happy. A very heavy (un-motivating) weight falls on them if they sense your disapproval. A great Valentines Day gift to your husband is the knowledge that he still has the ability to make you happy, even in his imperfections. Having a gracious tone and saving your complaints for another day will go a long way to pass the message along. (If you struggle with tone and criticism, I’d love to talk to you about it! Set up a time to come in so we can figure out how to get your needs met without resorting to these unnecessary communication tactics.)
  • Consider his love language when picking out a “gift” for him. What do you see him doing the most for those he cares about? Acts of service? Quality time? Physical affection? Gifts? Words of affirmation? A combination? Whatever you see him doing often for those he loves, do something thoughtful for him that fits his preferred category. This will ensure that your efforts are not wasted on something that would be a big deal to you but doesn’t register much for him at all (and thus avoid the Great Valentine’s Day Fight of 2016).

Well there you have it. A great list on how to turn the tables and make this Valentine’s Day one where deep respect and appreciation are communicated. Those gifts go far beyond a 24 hour period and anything you could buy at the store! Best of luck in all your Valentine’s Day endeavors!

Navigating Your Emotions

“Emotions are a wonderful servant but a terrible master,” – Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart.

It’s accurate to say that I’ve spent most of my life trying to dress up my emotions in suits and important little hats and pass them off as intelligent sounding thoughts. I’m not sure if it’s how I was raised or if it’s a reflection of culture (or a mixture of both), but somewhere along the line I started valuing emotions less than thoughts. My family of origin was more intellectually driven and a strong opinion was always welcomed. Additionally, a social stigma exists for being “too emotional” and society really responds well to rational, logical people who don’t get upset by much. For these reasons and more, I can tend to overly rely on my logic.

Freedom in this area has come by embracing my emotions…rather than viewing them as thoughts that aren’t falling in line or facts that I can try to dispute. Humans were created as cognitive and emotional beings, and life is best lived when both are freely incorporated into who we are. Attempting to navigate life by only using your emotions or only using your thoughts is denying half of how God intended you to go through life. Instead of cutting off part of who God made me to be, health looks like making friends with my feelings on their own terms, so I can receive them for the gifts that they are.

We were given emotions to serve as guideposts and signs to us along the way to affirm how to proceed through life. Trying to navigate our way through life without freely experiencing emotions is like trying to travel across the country with only half a map. You’re making the whole trip a lot less enjoyable because you’re making it a lot harder than it’s meant to be.

Here are some typical ways that people try to sneak by without dealing with their emotions:

Rationalizing/Intellectualizing: this tactic focuses on why something makes rational sense, so therefore it shouldn’t be accompanied by much emotional response.

Minimizing/Joking: people who are awesome at this strategy will minimize the impact of the loss/event by saying something like “it could’ve been worse,” or making light of the event through humor.

Getting defensive: this scenario is the classic “puff up so no one notices how upset you are” routine.

Suppressing/Denial: similar to some of the above methods, this tactic is one where the person tries to effectively numb out their feelings by stuffing them down…out of sight and out of mind.

How often do you disengage from how your feeling by running to “strong” thoughts instead? (Ie., coming across as angry instead of expressing that your feelings are hurt.)

By staying in touch with how someone or something makes you FEEL (even especially in the “scarier” more vulnerable emotions), you are able to experience richer relationships with others and have much more clarity in decision making.

Here’s my challenge to you: don’t disengage from your feelings or discharge discomfort by picking an argument or standing behind strong logical points. Be kind to yourself. Don’t avoid your real emotions…even if they’re somewhat irrational for a while. Don’t rush or rationalize. Feeling through your emotions gives them the space to breath and arrive at the most honest conclusion. Only then will you be embracing your full humanity. And that sure sounds a lot like freedom.

As always, if this conversation brings anything up for you, please reach out and set up a time for counseling to come in and talk.