I never really wanted to go to heaven; just wanted to make sure I avoided going to hell, if there was one. The problem was that my personality likes diversity and change. I just couldn’t imagine any kind of heaven I would enjoy for eternity. (Eternity sounds like a very very long time.)
After a conversion from agnosticism complete with an experience of the unlimited, no conditions love expressed in Jesus, I felt pretty sure there was a heaven that would work for everyone, even me. But I still couldn’t imagine it.
Some years into my spiritual journey I had an experience of such intense and enormous joy, that from then on I was much more excited about going to heaven and not so concerned with the details.
My brother and I were traveling together and the experience was so overwhelming that we each simultaneously asked God to stop it for fear we would actually explode. I won’t go into much detail, because I think these experiences come about differently for everyone. We both experienced a moment of great clarity in which we felt, saw, heard and were a part of a crowd around Jesus singing praise in the presence of God. After sharing with one another, we decided that what we had each experienced was very similar, but also realized that there was no way to measure or compare. We both experienced as much joy as we were each able to bear at that point in our lives. So, whether it was an ocean of joy or a cup of joy simply didn’t matter.
Over the forty plus years since then, I have come to believe that the capacity for experiencing joy and the capacity for accepting suffering are linked. I don’t know if there is a cause and effect relationship or just some sort of spiritual law of balance. My instinct says that joy is the grace that gives us the freedom to accept heart break without dulling the pain through anger or depression or an addiction (even one to doing good or working constantly.) But my experience also has been that in accepting the painful darkness of sorrow, I find the peace that passes understanding. And that peace is quiet joy.
As the psalm says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”
Over all it’s been a reasonably productive, though challenging year. The challenge of moving has been a bit of a bummer, but the advantage of it being such a drawn out, tiring process is it has helped us become eager to get moved, instead of just needing to move.
Also, my faith has been stretched by the process and that’s a good thing. I realized recently that what I used to think were tests of faith (which I usually failed!) are instead a stretching of our faith as part of the journey. Hopefully, each time we are stretched, we make it a little longer before we have to pray, “I do believe. Help thee my unbelief.”
I hit a couple of areas where I realized that I would have to change or I was going to totally fail in some of the most important areas of my life. And then I discovered that accepting that I need to change is the hard part, once I want to change, the grace comes.
Realized also, that out of fear of alienating people I love, I often downplay how important Jesus is in my life. So much bad stuff has been done in his name and his role warped into a fear of hell thing rather than a love that frees us, that it is hard to find words that aren’t a turn off to describe what an amazing human being he is, how powerful his resurrection can be in our own lives, and that he is literally still here for us.
One of my grandchildren was laughingly telling me about a teen girl who got into a loud argument with someone at school and shouted, “You better be glad that I love Jesus, cause I’d wipe the floor with you if I didn’t.”
It was a funny coincidence her telling me that, because on the drive to spend the day with her I had been thinking that if I hadn’t experienced knowing Jesus and his love, I doubt if I would have made it to fifty, never-the-less seventy-seven. And as weak, difficult, and selfish as I still often am, I would be a whole lot worse.
One of my favorite things I’ve read on facebook lately was a woman’s response to a friend telling about her child being made fun of at preschool because he thought the other children were cruel to cut up worms. Her response was: “Tell him that there are a lot of A** Holes in the world. And the best thing to do is ignore them, because killing them is illegal and also it would make Jesus cry.”
And I think it would. And I am glad of that, because let’s face it, there’s some A** Hole in all of us.
Loved this because, “Been there; done that.” It sounds simplistic, but actually is a good tool to break habitual cycles. Also, something a depressed teen-ager can relate to well enough to use it.
When I used to get trapped in a bad cycle of “I hate my boring life and I hate my selfish boring self,” I put slips of paper in three glasses. One glass labeled, Boring Necessary Tasks. The second labeled, Kindnesses to Others. And the third named, Attempts at Creativity or Totally Worthless Fun.
I drew randomly from first BNT and when that suggestion was accomplished, I drew and accomplished one from KTO, and then finally from the third, my reward group. Often accomplishing the first two unblocked my creativity.
I had two sets of these groups: Level One involved only a tiny bit of energy and time for each suggestion. Level Two took a larger investment of both.
On struggling through mud swamp days, I started with Level One and then moved on to Level Two. (Or not.)
Originally posted on Captain Awkward:
Hello friends! It’s Elodie Under Glass here with a guest post on Low Moods.
I particularly want to thank Quisty, Kellis Amberlee and TheOtherAlice for their kindly help in reading and editing this piece. It would not have existed without their care, support, compassion, and wonderful editorial abilities. They are truly remarkable humans! (edited: And thanks to the radiant and patient NessieMonster, who let me come to her city and follow her around, burbling insensibly about this post, for far longer than most people would have.)
So recently, I went on a Stress and Mood Management course, and I thought that you all might enjoy sharing what I’ve learned.
This post is something of a correction/update to Adulthood is a Scary Horse, a post for the Captain which I was never quite satisfied with. It really crystallized for me on this course, in our…
View original 3,458 more words
My degree is in psychology, with some graduate courses in learning disabilities and training in administering, interpreting and leading workshops on the Meyer’s-Briggs Type Indicator. But I have never done any counseling, so what I have to say needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
I have had counseling at some crises times in my life. Some of it was not helpful at all, but some actually helped enough to bring about major change. To me, Psychology often seems now aimed at putting a label on people and experimenting with pills until either some pill works more than it hurts, or they get over whatever it was on their own!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been helped by pills, but I’ve been helped as much or more by reading, working at developing inner awareness, and getting feedback from a counselor. There was a face book post about pills not curing anything, but helping us keep it together enough to work through our inner conflict. That resonates with me. Though I do recognize that in the case of some serious mental illnesses, pills are a critical part of keeping personal demons at bay. Although chemical imbalances may play a part in our problems, along the way we have usually learned responses to life that no longer work for us. Sometimes it takes changing our chemistry, our mental attitudes and our habitual behaviors.
One of the problems I, and many others, have is that our first response to the outer world is emotional. We operate on a feeling level. We are capable of using logic and reason, but that is not our first response. (And sometimes, not our second or third or……)
All too often we identify with our feelings. We are sad or happy, PERIOD.
From our viewpoint there is no end in sight. This makes any feeling seem overwhelming.
Whether it’s despair or pure joy, if you feel/think it’s going to last forever, that’s delusional thinking and it’s going to seriously handicap you in dealing with reality.
We have to learn to tell ourselves,” This is just a feeling and feelings change.” That is the nature of feelings, when we don’t get stuck there by delusional thinking. Our emotions and our reason need to hold hands, look each other in the eye, and talk!
Henri Nouwen speaks to this, “Don’t identify with your feeling. It is not the whole of you. Instead pastor it gently.”
And that takes grace.
We are in the process of moving with all the sorting and prioritizing that goes with downsizing.
So when I ran out of stamina for bending and lifting to pack things, I started going through 30 + years of journals. I have already found quite a few quotes I liked and that I have seen confirmed in the intervening years.
“Ministry is often a confrontive service, taking away the false supposition that there should be no pain or suffering.”
“Hospitality gives space for the other to find their own soul. It takes away the illusion that wholeness can be given to another.”
“Don’t identify with your feelings, they are not the whole of you. Simply pastor them gently.” (All three from Henri Nouwen, I think.)
“Important consequences are often side-effects: A bee gets honey, so nature gets pollinated.” Buckminster-Fuller
“Perfectionism and the stress it causes make small achievements feel larger.”
“Admit that no one, including you, can please everyone.” My paraphrase of some others’ ideas.
“Use suffering to end suffering. Welcome it, because it alerts us to our own inner needs or illusions and frees us by helping us to face and accept reality.” Sadhana
Reading my journals from the eighties, I can see some ways I have changed. Back then I was struggling unsuccessfully to even love, never-the-less, like myself. Now, I realize that I still don’t like me very much, but because I have come to know with all my heart that I am loved by God, I do actually love myself. And that has freed me to love others that I don’t like very much. I’m thinking this may be enough. Perfection is best left to God”
One of my most cherished beliefs has been that we are capable of growth, of spiritual evolution. So as I read my journals, at first I found myself thinking….yes, I love more deeply now, in spite of the reality that loving people more and loving more people brings more heartbreak along with the joy. And then I decided that I was also more honest, since I am not as addicted to pleasing everyone. And remembering how little stress it used to take to paralyze me, I felt pretty sure I’ve grown stronger. And I definitely stick with people and and goals through the disillusionment stage better than I used to. (Please realize I am not saying I do any of these well; just better than I used to manage.)
But then I realized that I’m still the same wus I always was. The difference is that now I admit it and I waste less and less time trying to solve everything with my own limited strength, wisdom, and ability to love the unloveable.
I know more and more what Paul meant about praying unceasingly. He meant it literally. And in weak moments when I have trouble praying with much faith, I gather prayer support from all the praying friends and family I can rally.
Though it’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey, as I look back across the decades, I get glimpses of a somewhat meandering path, but one that seems custom designed to get me to my final destination.
I used to avoid reading the prophet Jeremiah. He seemed so negative, a real downer. But I’ve come to realize that he would make a great character in a modern novel. He has such a complex and conflicted personality.
Babylon’s long siege has brought terrible suffering to Jerusalem and its army is now battering the gates. Good old Jeremiah is loudly proclaiming, “Babylon is gonna win! They are going to haul King Zedekiah off. You might as well all defect and get it over with, because you can’t win. This is God’s retribution. You brought it on yourselves.”
Jeremiah’s really great for morale in a war zone.
But at the same time the Lord also tells Jeremiah to buy his cousin’s land officially, in front of witnesses, for the time when God will return Israel to Jerusalem. That would be like buying an ocean front house in Florida in the middle of a full scale hurricane.
And Jeremiah puts both his money and his mouth where his faith is; he not only buys the land, he begins to proclaim that God will make a new covenant with his people. Jeremiah tells anyone who will listen, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will put my law within them. I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.”
This is a serious leap of faith for Jeremiah. Even though he cares deeply about God’s people and really hurts for them, he has no illusions about their track record. But he goes on record that God’s love can accomplish anything, not just reverse the fortunes of war, but change hearts.
Jeremiah is like an Eeyore with faith. He has no illusions about life or people, but God is his bottom line.
One of the most puzzling scriptures to me has always been Luke 16:1-13. Recently, I got some insight into what I think Jesus was saying.
The master was firing a dishonest manager for squandering his property. So the dishonest manager cut everyone’s debt to the master in half in order to be welcome in their homes when he no longer had a job. It then sounds like the master approves of what the manager has done “by being shrewd as the children of this generation are so that he will be welcomed into their eternal homes.” But then Jesus goes on about being trustworthy in the small things, so you will be trusted in the large. And from there he says that no one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and wealth.
To me the overall message is, “If you think this life is all there is, then you might as well beat the worldly at their own game. Be shrewd: get jobs through kickbacks, win rich friends with insider tips, charge exorbitant prices, use other peoples’ retirement funds to cover your mistakes, do whatever it takes to get money and power in this life.
But if you want eternal life with God, watch out. That changes everything. Because this life is short and riches are uncertain, but the love of God is eternal and trustworthy. You have to decide. What is your bottom line? God or money? This life or eternity?
As much as I believe in the unconditional love of God and that hell would be never learning to love, I can’t get around the obvious fact that we do constantly make choices and the small ones lead to a pattern of life long ones and they have consequences.
I also know that some of us are weaker than others, seemingly from birth, but I know that faith opens a reservoir of both strength from within and external coincidences that help us make choices to give, rather than take because of our own neediness. We never become perfect, but we grow toward our individual potential, by turning to the reservoir of God’s love when our neediness keeps us from loving others. As we learn how to do this more and more in all circumstances, our cups can run over with love.
Jesus wept for his people because though he loved them with all his heart, he was unable to reach them to free them from the limits of the values of this world and lead them to that reservoir of grace for all circumstances.
It’s long been my theory that women outlive men, because in our culture we have traditionally been allowed the release of tears.
When men are overwhelmed, they use anger to keep from being vulnerable by showing their fears or hurt. But anger has to be controlled or it will turn into violence, so it isn’t an effective
way of expressing and releasing strong emotions. Instead it just creates more tension and stress.
Though long ago crying made me feel weak, once when doing a project using a friend’s original art, I thought I had permanently damaged all her paintings. Weeping copiously, I struggled successfully to find a way to save them. Once the crisis was over, I realized that weeping didn’t show weakness. The whole time I was weeping, I was coping by problem solving. And having an outlet for my emotions, probably freed me from panic enough to think of a creative solution.
When I was carpooling with an army staff sergeant to my civil service job on an army post, he explained why he had volunteered for a year’s duty without family in Korea. He said that he had a great posting near his wife’s family in Boston. But the first morning he reported to his new position as staff sergeant, he discovered that all his officers were women and in the process of his first staff meeting, they all, at times, cried. He had been through two wars, but he couldn’t handle that. It struck me as understandable, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the officers in all the armies cried instead of being angry and macho, would it cut down on wars?
Another time I was working in a Christian book store and right after my mother died, I had to spend a morning arranging all the Mother’s Day cards. About every fifteen minutes I had to go in the back to cry, not wanting a customer to come in and see me weeping. But a few days later, a young man still in his teens came in to buy a bible. We got to talking and he told me he had just gotten out of the army after serving in our invasion of Panama. He said that his unit was sent to surround a building that reportedly had enemy soldiers hiding there. As they approached the building with machine guns ready, some people started running out and he and the other American soldiers started firing. But it was a school and it was children and teachers running out. I was horrified, but fought back my tears. I did say, “I’m so sorry” and he nodded and left. I wish now I had cried and held him and freed him to weep. Because that is what he needed, someone to free him to weep by weeping with him.
Jesus wept when he stood on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, realizing that he had failed in what he thought was his life’s mission, saving his people, the Jews. He wept because he loved them, yet was unable to reach them.
Tears simply express strong emotion. They are healing, freeing, saving. If we understand that when feeling overwhelmed, we can cry it out and then deal with our situation. If Jesus wept, so can we. Tears are not weakness. They are a healing gift.