Doing Life Together

speaker-1596210_1920Debbie feels anxious about the presentation she has to make to the board tomorrow. She is trying to get a good night’s rest, but finds herself tossing and turning, her heart is racing, and thoughts of failure run through her head. The last time she had to give a presentation to the board, she felt sick to her stomach and almost passed out. All she could think about was getting out of the room as soon as possible. Debbie suffers from a type of anxiety called social phobia or social anxiety. It is one of the most common forms of anxiety disorders.

Debbie began to experience social anxiety as a teenager. She struggled to give class presentations and always sat in the back of the classroom hoping not to be called on by the teacher. Her story is typical in that social anxiety begins early in life for most people–around the age of 11 and usually manifests by age 20. A concern with social anxiety is that it is a risk factor for depression and substance use. So it is best to treat it early.

So what can Debbie do? Successful treatment approaches generally involve medication combined with psychotherapy. However, cognitive-behavioral therapies have proven superior in placebo-controlled trials. And one type of cognitive behavioral therapy is worth a try. It is called exposure therapy.

Basically, Debbie would talk with the therapist about her irrational fears and learn to identify them. Then she would practice substituting rational thoughts (this is called cognitive restructuring). Debbie would also learn to do relaxation exercises to practice in the moment of feeling anxious. Finally, she would be gradually exposed to social situations that would prompt her anxiety, working through the anxiety until the situation was over. The more Debbie exposes herself to anxious situations, the easier they become and she builds the confidence that she can manage social situations. Eventually, her anxiety decreases and becomes manageable.

In some cases, people like Debbie might start by simply imagining situations like giving the presentation, notice how she feels and work to calm down her body and change her thoughts. Once she can stay clam and relaxed with imagination only, she moves on to real life attempts as described above.

A key to making exposure work is knowing that submitting yourself to the anxious situation will allow you to eventually overcome it. The temptation is to avoid anxious situations rather than learn to power through them. But it is the exposure to the anxious situation that helps a person learn to overcome it.

truth-166853_1920Turn on the news, look at a magazine, scan the Internet…do you believe you are getting truth? Some would say there is a crisis when it comes to truth. Even when we try to be truthful, it’s easy to embellish the truth. It happens so often, we don’t always recognize it.

The book of James calls us to radical truthfulness. “Above all, by brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anyone else. Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No’ be no, or you will be condemned.” Just think how radical our culture would be if people simply told the truth and followed this prescription in James.

This passage reminds me  of a Bible story that always scared me as a child. It’s the story of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck down by God because they lied about their giving to the church. I always thought, “Why did they die? After all, they did give to the church.” Acts 5:4 gives us the reason. Peter cries out to them before they die, “You have not lied to men, but to God.” The consequence, death seems harsh and not keeping with the concept of grace. It makes us cringe. But the couple’s obligation was to be honest. And these were formative days of the early church. Phony spiritualism can be contagious and sweep like a fire in a church. The witness of the early church was at stake. God was at work preserving his church and the message is that telling the truth is serious.

God wants us to speak the truth and represent who we really are as followers of Christ. If the church is going to grow, we have to be truthful and model honesty. Telling the truth is one way to evangelize! It is also how we represent Christ. It is how the church avoids the label of hypocrisy.

Jesus reminds us that out of the heart, the mouth speaks. And that we will be judged by every word we say. Great care and attention given to our words must be part of our walk with Christ. Thus, we are admonished to speak the truth in love.

Do you always speak truth? The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a chilling reminder that God will deal with our sin. Be thankful for grace, but also remember that one day, we will be judged. So let’s be the truthful representatives of Christ, the body of believers who can be counted on to tell the truth. Let our Yes be yes, and our No be no. Let those who interact with the modern church know that it is a place of truth.


holzfigur-980784_1920Persevere: Not a word we hear often. But it is especially important in the face of suffering. And most of us have experienced some suffering in our lives. Whether it is a troubled child, a conflictual marriage, a chronic illness or difficult boss, troubles bring up the opportunity to trust and become nearer to God. Our communication intensifies, presenting an opportunity to draw closer to God.

The biblical story of Job teaches us much about the nature of suffering. First, we see that righteous and blessed people suffer. Satan argued that it was easy for someone to love God when he is blessed, but take those blessings away and make him suffer, well.. let’s see how your servant Job fares. This was a test of perseverance in the face of suffering.  Job lost everything, but persevered.

And here is what I love about the story. Job reacted in a very human way. He cried, complained and argued with God. He tore his robe, shaved his head, fell to ground. He felt all this emotion and yet never renounced God. He proved that He didn’t serve God for the things God gave him. Blessed be the name of the Lord who gives and takes away.

Then Satan tries again. This time he brings physical illness on Job. His grief-stricken wife urges Job to curse God and die. Job’s friend joined in and began to attack Job, telling him to repent and accusing him of self-righteousness. Though all of this, Job perseveres.

Job lost his wealth, his family, his possessions, his health and even his friendships, and yet he stayed true to his faith. He refused to renounce God. He proclaims, “I know my Redeemer lives.” He is confident that one day, he will see God despite his earthly afflictions.

Through  suffering, Job becomes profoundly humble and recognizes that God can do all things. He acknowledges that there is so much he doesn’t understand. He gains perspective on the Lord’s greatness. And his spiritual blessings are many. He experiences God in a way he had never done before.

Whatever you are going through, persevere. Hold on to hope. Your Redeemer lives.

handful-of-rice-2380797_1920Be fit. Eat clean! Sugar free, gluten free, non GMO, no pesticides, grass fed…This is the mantra of healthy living in today’s culture.

But Mary took this clean eating strategy too far and put herself in physical danger. She found herself sitting in the emergency department with severe nausea, underweight, hypokalemic and dehydrated.  She had recently been on a 3-day water only cleanse as a way to clear out impurities in her body from foods she felt were unhealthy. She told the physician that she had a very restrictive diet and ritualized eating patterns. She was fixated on the quality of the food she consumed.

So when does this emphasis on clean eating become a pathological obsession and cause a person to avoid certain foods because they are believed to be impure or unhealthy?  Like most problems, our state of well-being has to do with how we think. In this case, how you think about food. When you become obsessed with eating healthy, find yourself dieting in extreme ways and when the foods you eat are causing you distress or impairment, you may be struggling with what is being called orthorexia nervosa.

Orthorexia is not a formalized psychiatric diagnosis. It’s a condition that fits somewhere between anorexia nervosa and avoidant food intake disorder and can have an obsessive quality about it. The person is afraid to eat certain foods because of what the food may do to him or her. The condition is being studied and needs more research. Some experts believe it is another form or presentation of anorexia nervosa. Whatever the case, being worried about food harming you is not a normal state of mind.

So if you find yourself shifting from a healthy eating focus to an obsession or fixation on healthy eating, pay attention. You could be moving yourself into an eating disorder. This over dedication to clean and healthy eating can impair your relationships and put you in physical danger with nutritional deficits.

Get help from a mental health professional who can guide you to healthy eating without fixation. Clean eating and eating rituals should not be the basis for  self-esteem. You should be able to eat without worry of damaging your self.