Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

annoyed-2514029_1920College student, Ann, told her professor that she was offended by a passage in a classical literature book. “I didn’t feel good reading it. It stirred up some difficult feelings so the book should be banned.”

Ann doesn’t want to work through her discomfort or learn something about herself. Instead, she chooses to believe her subjective feelings represent reality. Based on her negative emotions, the book should be banned from the literature course.

In years past, this would not have been considered a legitimate request. The professor would have asked Ann to look deep inside and discover why she was so uncomfortable. Does she need to address a hard issues in her past, has she been sheltered from a diversity of experiences, is Ann able to tolerate a story different from her own? Could the class discuss their various subjective reactions to the material? This is called critical thinking.

But today, Ann is part of movement of students who are constantly offended because they feel something to be true. They reason with their emotions. and don’t want to feel uncomfortable.  The mantra is, “If I feel something to be true, it must be true.”

This is scary and dangerous because our feelings are subjective and not always trustworthy. Just because you feel something, doesn’t make it true. I may feel like it is a rainy day but the sun may be shining!

Words become offensive based on whose standards? And who judges the right and wrong of words and decides to punish people? Yes, we need to follow laws and make sure we are not discriminating to people. But when we start policing speech because we don’t like the opinions of others, we are in trouble. Dissenting points of view should be tolerated and civil discourse is needed for people to work through differences.

What happens to Ann when she is faced with an employer who does something to offend her? Is she going to tell him and risk losing her job? And is the employer going to say, “Oh Ann, I am sorry you were offended. If you felt offended, then it must be true?” In the workplace and in real life, there are no safe spaces. Offense will come your way on a regular basis. The key is to respond appropriately, not just react.

First ask, is this offense something I must respond to because it violates my moral conscious? If so, plan your response in a respectful and civil way. If the offense is simply something you don’t like or a difference of opinion, have a discussion  with the person instead of reacting. Try to talk through differences and understand the perspective of the other person. If the offense triggers something in you from your past, work through it rather than expecting people to never offend you.

The Bible has several guidelines to help us deal with offense:

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22-Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

Proverbs 19:11–Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Yes, you will be offended and you will also offend others if you live your life with other people. So don’t be so quick to judge, think before you react, and learn to overlook offenses that are related to something that just feels bad. I’m not saying compromise your values, rather stop reasoning with your emotions.

As I write this, I am on my way to Maine to see my dad who is lying in a hospital fighting for his life. He’s 96-years-old and has lived a good life. He loves the Lord and knows where he is headed should this be the time God takes him home. Despite all of this, losing your parent is never easy.

Even though my relationship with my dad has always been strong, and even though he has been mentally with us, there is no easy way to say goodbye.  I find myself crying at unexpected times. For all my life, he has been my strong dad–the provider of all things stable and my biggest cheerleader in terms of believing in me.

Not everyone has such a positive relationship with their dad an/or their family members. In those cases, grief can be complicated. If you are the caretaker for an older parent, you may feel a sense of relief, but then experience guilt and ambivalence. And the loss of a second parent makes you the surviving oldest generation. Some people call that “adult orphans.” Our parents, who have always been there are gone. We are now the reigning oldest. When my brother and I look at each other after his passing, we will know–we are it!

The important thing to do when you face this type of loss is to let people know and not try to cope alone. Don’t be afraid to talk about how the loss is affecting you. Most important to consider is the spiritual condition of the parent that is holding on to life or passing to the next. If your parent doesn’t know the Lord, ask the Holy Spirit for a moment to bring up a conversation about eternity. In my case, I know my dad is soon to be with Jesus. But when his brother died, he did not have that assurance with his brother and boldly brought up the topic of eternity. I was proud of my dad as this was a courageous move, one he knew could affect his brother’s eternity.

Soon my dad may join my mom and brother in heaven. That moment will be bittersweet. He will be out of the body that is now confining him in a way he does not like. But he will also be out of our lives for now. Our daily talks about sports will end. He won’t be following Michigan football with me as he does ever year. He won’t ask about the kids and have fun conversations with them about their cars, jobs and life. He won’t occasionally tell me he loves me or ask how he is doing financially. There will be a void that no one can fill. And that is why loss is so hard. Parents are irreplaceable.

 

hiding-1209131_1920You are at work and called to the 36th floor of the high-rise building. Fear grips you. On the way up to the meeting, your heart starts to beat fast, your palms get sweaty and you feel like you might faint. You are terrified as you look out the glass elevator and see how high you are. You have a phobia to heights and feel momentarily paralyzed and don’t know if you can make it to the 36th floor.

These types of fears called phobias are common to 19 million people. A phobia is an excessive and irrational fear of something. When you encounter the source of your fear, you become highly anxious and immobilized. There are literally hundreds of phobias. People can learn to be afraid of almost anything.

Phobias involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors and are learned. Since these fears are learned, they can be unlearned.

The first thing you want to do when you are afraid of something is run from it, right? It’s that fight or flight tendency that is programmed into us. But with a fear or phobia,  you actually do the opposite if you want to get rid of the fear.

To overcome a phobia, face the fear. Yes,  face your giant with God’s help. You have to be willing to tolerate feeling anxious and terrible as you face the fear. Tell yourself, I can do this. I can take it. If you stay in the anxious moment and face the fear, you eventually get over the fear. The more you tolerate the fear, the more it goes away. You expose yourself over and over to the fear until it no longer has power over you. Eventually, the fear loses its power.

Here is an example: Let’s say you are afraid of elevators. You could begin by simply walking in the elevator over and over until you  get in the elevator without complete panic. Then you are ready to make the plunge and go down. Push the button and off you go. You may feel like you are going to die but you won’t. Once you get to the bottom, you realize you are Ok and faced your fear. Do that over and over until the fear is gone. It often helps to do this type of exposure work with a trained therapist who can walk you through the process until the fear is gone.

Facing fear is counter to our desire to avoid it, but once you face the fear over and over you can get rid of it. It often takes time and a commitment to tolerate the anxiety that comes with doing this type of work, however, the end result is losing the fear.

God does not want you debilitated by fear or living in fear. He reminds us in John 14: 27 that He is our peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

 

sad-2637841_1920During Jan’s recent check-up, she decided to tell her doctor that she was feeling lonely. Loneliness was eating away at her, stealing her joy and making it difficult to get up in the mornings. Jan is not alone and considered part of a new epidemic sweeping the country.

Recently, researchers at Brigham Young University conducted two meta-analysis studies on the impact of loneliness on health. Based on those studies, they made the determination that loneliness is at an epidemic rate and is associated with early death. In fact, social isolation, living alone and loneliness have more of an impact on health than high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and lack of exercise.

As we look for ways to help lonely people, we might think that simply surrounding ourselves with more people would be an answer. But loneliness is not the result of being alone. It is a feeling that is accompanied by a state of mind. You can be in the middle of a crowd of people and still feel alone.

The key to combatting loneliness is social connection. With all the changes in society, we have become more disconnected to each other. People no longer put down roots as they did in year past and families are more unstable. We don’t know our neighbors and spend more time on screens then on real-time relationships.

Loneliness is a feeling not a fact. You can change that feeling by doing several things:

  1. Volunteer. This has the benefit of altruism and often brings gratitude for what you have in your own life. Focus your attention on someone in need. This other-person focus will take your mind off of feeling lonely and will help you help someone else.
  2. Build friendships: Smile, make eye contact, invite people to your house, an outing, church, etc. Make efforts to stay connected with other people and take the time to make friends.
  3. Join a club or interest group. When you meet with others with like interests, you are bound to make friends. So look for a cooking class, a travel group, a painting course, etc.
  4. Find an exercise partner. Not only will exercise boost your mood but an exercise partner provides social support. This is a win-win.
  5. Get a pet. Consider a rescue. Animals are wonderful companions and help you connect to other people. The unconditional love will boost your spirit.
  6. Go to church. Studies show that church goers are less lonely so get involved. You can be lonely in church if you stay aloof so work in the nursery, sing in the choir, etc. Join a small group and get to know people.
  7. Strengthen your relationship with God. He promises to never leave or forsake you. You always have a friend in God. As cliche as that sounds, it is true. When we are lonely, we can turn to the one who can sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus had many lonely moments, especially when he took our sin to the cross. He knows the feeling and can bring you peace.
  8. See a Christian counselor who can help you socially connect with others and work through whatever issues may be holding you back.

You don’t have to stay lonely. Find places to connect and do the hard work of making friends. Your life will improve in so many ways.