Many years ago, singer Bette Midler recorded a hit song with the lyric that God is watching us from a distance. God exists, but He is impersonal-Up in the sky, not really involved in our lives. There are many who believe God exists, but don’t know Him. One reason for this has to do with our beliefs about who God is.
Our families are a basic source of learning about God, but can be major sources of distortion when it comes to understanding who God is. Families are supposed to love unconditionally. They are supposed to protect us and never let us down. In reality they fail us at times. Then we look to other people to love us unconditionally. We hope our friends, the church, fellow Christians will show us love, but we are often disappointed in those relationships as well. When this happens we transfer our views of failed love onto God. God gets all the negative attributes and then doesn’t look so appealing either. Consequently, we look to other sources, places to be affirmed, to know who we are.
Some of you have dads you don’t really know. You know he is your dad, but you don’t really know him. He may be absent, uninterested, distant, emotionally cut off, self-absorbed, critical, shaming, perfectionisitic, violent or even abusive. Because we tend to transfer our feelings about earthly parents onto God the Father, we may not want to know God. We may prefer to keep him distant. Intimacy, as we know it, is too painful.
Yet, the avoidance of intimacy prevents us from the healing love of God. In order to correct our ideas about God, we have to spend time with Him (through prayer) and get to know Him (through the written Word). He’s waiting for you to take the necessary steps–To open up, to be vulnerable, to seek Him, to trust. The difference is, He will not disappoint. What other relationship provides such a guarantee?
John 14:9 says, Have I been so long with you and yet hast thou not known me? Unlike families and others, God will never reject or abandon. Nothing can separate us from His love. We can depend on His love. And even though we don’t deserve such love, He gave it anyway. Once you understand this and believe it, it will change your life. Your self-esteem, your security rests on being loved. No matter what you have done, you are loved.
It’s not enough to believe God exists. God is personal, relational and desires intimacy with you. Out of that intimacy comes identity, security, unconditional love, grace, and peace. Don’t allow your earthly relationships to prevent you from knowing God. Take a leap of faith and explore this God who exists, but also desires to be known.
Josh looked at his audience and began to panic. What if he humiliated himself? What if he forgot his speech? What if he bombed with his audience? His heart began to race, his hands became sweaty. Josh felt like he was about to faint and couldn’t think. His mind went blank. Josh was having a panic attack.
Panic can be frightening because of the intense physical and psychological symptoms associated with it. During a panic attack, you may feel as if you will die or lose total control. However, panic will not lead to a heart attack, suffocation, fainting, falling or you going crazy. You may feel as if these things are about to happen because of the physical sensations you experience. But the reality is these sensations will pass, and your health will not be endangered. Panic is very unpleasant, but not dangerous.
Here are a few practical tips to help overcome panic:
1) Know what triggers panic. There may be a pattern or specific thing that brings on panic. For Josh, it was speaking in public. Try to record what happens prior to the attack and see if you can idenitify a common trigger. For example, panic may come every time you see your stepfather, feel enclosed, have to make a public speech, or take an important test.
2) Eliminate stimulants from your diet (caffeine, nicotine, medications). These can aggravate and trigger anxiety.
3) Don’t try to resist or avoid the panic symptoms. Instead recognize the symptoms and tell yourself you can handle them. They will pass. Avoiding just reinforces the fear and doesn’t help you master the symptoms. Working with panic means riding into the storm, not avoiding it.
4) Repeat a “Yes I can” statement over and over. For example, “God has not given me a spirit of fear. I can ride this out and be OK. Nothing terrible is going to happen to me. This will soon pass. I can take the hit.”
5) Go through the panic. Don’t try to escape, instead endure it and you will eventually see that nothing terrible happens.
The key to overcoming panic is exposing yourself to it and coming out on the other side. Take away your safely measures and be fully exposed. This is what releases most people from panic. For example, if you panic going into an elevator, don’t keep taking the stairs (that is avoidance). Find a therapist who will help you face the fear and get on that elevator no matter how afraid you are. Then hit the button and down you go. It will feel terrible, but at the end, you realize you did it, you didn’t die or faint. This mastery will build your confidence to do it again and again until the panic is gone.
Before my mom passed away after years of serious health issues and treatment needs, it was like having a part time job. The toll of decision making, talking with doctors, flying home on a regular basis and taking care of multiple needs can be physically and emotionally exhausting. For me, it wasn’t an option not to do this. My mom took care of me when I needed her. Now it was my turn.
Even though you choose to give care, it can create an emotional strain. The National Family Caregivers Association reports that almost half of all caregivers suffer from depression; two-thirds regularly feel frustrated; and two of five feel “debilitated” due to the changes in family dynamics.
Ever since the term “sandwich generation” was born, self-help groups, facts and information abound on how to make and execute various practical tasks involved in care taking parents. But it is the emotional part of caregiving that takes a toll.
What are some of the emotional issues involved for the adult caretaker?
- Your own mortality. Care taking an aging parent causes you to think about your own aging process and eventual death.
- Who will take care of you if you need help some day? You may begin to think more about your own options and plans for care.
- Unresolved parent-child problems. The hope of many is that taking care of a parent may reverse a damaged relationship. When this doesn’t happen it can be even more distressing for the adult child. For example, a daughter might find the father who never gave approval, still not giving his approval, or the mother who was depressed and emotionally unavailable, still emotionally distant.
- Remorse about the past. You may have regrets that were never discussed.
- Reversal of roles. You become the parent and the parent becomes the child. This reversal of roles requires adjustment for both child and parent.
All of this requires extra doses of patience, understanding and grace. Try to honor your parents no matter how difficult the care taking becomes. Remember their dignity. They desire to be independent and self-sufficient as long as possible. Aging parents often worry that they are a burden to their adult children. They are not used to their children having to do for them. Put yourself in their place, having to depend on others when they have lived a life of independence. This perspective helps.
Be aware of the emotional issues raised and then work to manage or resolve them if possible. If you need the help of a therapist, find one who will counsel you and who specializes in treatment with the aged. Take advantage of help and support so you don’t become one of the seriously stressed.
The positive side of caretaking is that you will be more aware of what you need to do in terms of your own planning, you become more self-confident in terms of your ability to deal with health care workers and you can end well with your parent, not having regrets about the end of their lives. So do what you can, watch your stress levels and get plenty of support along the way.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “I don’t want to talk to my family (substitute anyone else here). They are toxic and impossible to deal with–it’s better if I just leave and have little contact.” But is it?
The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t work! In Jill’s case, she thought cutting off her relationship with her mom was a sign of independence. But cut off doesn’t teach her how to resolve issues. It only keeps her distant from her mom. And being distant is not independence. It is running away with your emotional baggage.
Emotional cut off is a learned pattern that follows you into other relationships. When problems erupt, avoiding or cutting off the relationship results in distance over and over again.
Cut off is an extreme reaction to the problem of balancing the emotional and intellectual self. It doesn’t teach you to talk, resolve conflicts, control your emotions or extend grace- skills you need to practice for healthy relationships.
Your ability to function as a separate person but still have an emotional attachment with your original family sets the stage for all your other intimate relationships. If you cut off your family, you don’t develop the healthy separation you need in adult life. Healthy separation comes while maintaining connection.
So try to work through problems with your original family. When you do, you practice vital relationships skills (e.g., boundaries, assertiveness, etc.). The more you do the hard work of relationships, the better you will be as a spouse, parent or even friend.
Cut off may make you feel better in the moment, but doesn’t work as a strategy to build healthy relationships. You grow when you work within a relationship.