How to relate to a person in one’s life who is in crisis as a consequence of self-destructive decisions
Most of us have known someone – a child, a relative, or a friend – who continually makes decisions and takes actions that disrupt their own success and the lives of those who love them. Our natural desire is to guide people we love toward recovery and self-control. Sometimes our efforts work, but often it is for a limited time. It is rare that we can make a person change through our own reason or control. How do we accept a beloved friend or relative for who they are and still acknowledge their self-destructive behavior for what it is? How can we stay in relationship while drawing firm boundaries to protect ourselves and others? How can we live into another person’s suffering without being consumed by it? How do we walk that delicate balance of compassion and love against the need to draw lines to protect ourselves and others?
It is helpful to cultivate practices that set our hearts and minds into a posture of readiness for whatever happens and let us be mindful in our response to the person’s actions. The following thoughts and guidelines may be helpful.
- Patience and support: Since the crisis for this person you care about has no doubt developed over a long time, a reversal of the situation will almost certainly spread out over an extended period of time. It may be helpful to consult with a wise, trusted friend or counselor for guidance and support along the way.
- Meditation and prayer: It can be fruitful to feel the situation deep within yourself, and hold this person you care about at the center of your being, entering a period of deep centered silence as you await the possibility of a picture welling up from within. If an image does emerge, explore possibilities of what God may be saying to you through it. Carry the image with you over time and eventually details may develop or the picture may evolve, bringing additional insight.
- Take regular quiet time to see into your own heart and to recognize your own pain and suffering caused by your desire for things to be different, for the person to be different. Acknowledge within yourself the many realities of the situation. Try to put aside the desire to do something. Rather sit with your emotions and wait until some clarity comes and you can feel or visualize a useful response.
- You may not be able to “fix” the person or a particular event, but you can cultivate a practice of love, forgiveness, and prayerful presence to the person, the situation, and your own emotions and responses. Try to hold the person in your heart on a continual basis, at the same time opening yourself to God’s compassion, truth, and wisdom.
- Mindfulness and presence: To the extent possible, be a prayerful, non-anxious presence. Try to maintain open communication, listening with all of your senses, being honest in a way that is gentle and measured, never pushy. Help out in any way you can, taking care not to do anything that will perpetuate self-destructive behavior. If you help, do so without expectation of a return, but rather as an unobligated act of love. Do not act as an enabler, taking on responsibilities or attempting to save the person from the consequences of the self-destructive behavior.
- Ideally, we want to keep the channels of communication open with the goal of moving the person toward healing and wholeness. It may be possible, with adequate prayer and consideration, to come up with constructive suggestions along with a diplomatic approach to planting your ideas, and a sense of timing as to when to offer your thoughts. Yet, unsolicited advice can create a barrier. If you make a point of listening carefully on a continuing basis to what the person says, in the course of time you may be able to find openings to pose thoughtful questions that could draw the person out so that they begin to acknowledge the realities of their situation and, in time, start to see for themselves some positive steps they could take.
- In this type of a difficulty, three signs of the Spirit are most likely to emerge that would point to progress: energy, joy, and peace. Indications of these signs affirm forward movement. Their opposites are negative signs that suggest that something is stuck. Energy can be seen when the person is motivated to follow through with positive steps to address the matter or when you grasp and forgive your own suffering. The longer this energy persists, the stronger the sign. Joy is not likely to be euphoric in the early stages, so even a receding gloom can be reason for encouragement. Peace will not quickly appear as total serenity, but more likely as a slow increase in inner confidence. And bear in mind that negative signs alert caution.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform:
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.
– William Cowper, 1774
Meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies, and prejudices that divide them…
– Howard Thurman
Once we recognize an ethnic or racial bias within ourselves, most likely we want to cease any stereotyping. We want to avoid clumping people together according to race, religion, or national origin. But prejudice gives rise to conditioned reflexes that can be difficult to control. Below are some suggestions that may help shed fear and cultivate a tolerant heart.
- Racial and ethnic divides involve a lack of understanding. Learn as much as possible about the history and culture of any group in question.
- Empathy can dissolve prejudice. Try to feel yourself in the skin of people from the other race or ethnic group. Try to walk in their shoes.
- Most especially, make a concerted effort to get to know some individuals from the “other group” on a personal basis:
- Invite them into your home.
- Visit them in their homes.
- Enjoy some meals with one another.
- Do some fun things together.
- Engage in meaningful conversation.
- Ask a friend or acquaintance who is from the “other group” how they would suggest that you begin to understand their experience. Listen to their thoughts with humility and an open heart..
- If developing such personal relationships is impossible, you can get a sense of knowing people from that group by reading novels, watching movies, and going to plays that convey their everyday life. However, before taking this step, ask yourself: Is it really impossible, or just too challenging? Could it be worth the challenge?
- Biases can produce a visceral response that prevents us from seeing deeper into the immediate situation; for example a reaction of fear upon seeing a young African American male come toward you on the street. Try to become aware of such responses in yourself and to understand their origin. Work toward recognizing these conditioned responses when they occur and cultivate the ability to see beyond them into what is actually happening at that moment and in that situation.
- Designate a specific time each day (for instance, just after brushing your teeth, or while taking a shower or walking the dog) to find an inner stillness for at least a few minutes. During this time, hold people from the “other group” at the center of your being. Feel your own desire to let go of all intolerance. Commit yourself to faithfully honor this brief sacred time on a daily basis. During these moments of inner stillness, bask in the divine presence.
It can take a very long time to shed prejudice completely, possibly even a lifetime. But doing so is a way to inner peace and also helps bring peace to the various communities of which we are a part. So persevere.
Wars of aggression for land acquisition and/or subjugation of people span history, creating political and economic inequalities that result in tensions, which in turn lead to prejudice that becomes deeply ingrained. This prejudice gets passed on broadly through resulting cultures, especially through families that acquire ethnic or racial biases. This aspect of racism tends to be semi-conscious. A deeper level of racism finds its place in the unconscious: Either a series of personal assaults by members of the “other group” or a single terrifying incident can instill fear that manifests itself in automatic, unconscious associations that get triggered when encountering a person from that “other group.” Contemporary neuroscience using electrodes that identify activity within specific portions of the brain provide evidence of this. Only as we become conscious of our own racism can we remedy it. Here are some guidelines to help us discern our own racial and ethnic prejudices:
- For a concise summary about stereotypes, prejudices, and associated terminology, click http://www.tolerance.org/Hidden-bias.
- Begin to assemble a list of reflective questions such as: Looking back over my life, starting with early childhood, what can I remember about becoming aware of racial and ethnic prejudice? To what extent has my awareness of prejudice in society come from family members? from friends? from schoolmates? from societal norms? or from a work environment? Have I ever observed racial discrimination in church? How strongly has knowledge of pervasive racial and ethnic bias influenced me? Has my formal education shaped my attitudes toward ethnic and racial groups in any way? To what extent has possible racial prejudice within me resulted from specific personal experiences or public incidents? How have I responded to racial jokes? Could racial language in stories, games, songs, movies, or theater have affected the development of my feelings toward any “other groups?” How has my life experience influenced my feelings and treatment of people in these “other groups?” In what ways have these various factors, accumulated over time, affected my comfort level with members of different races and ethnic groups and the manner in which I interact with them? At the present time, to what extent do I feel discomfort, caution, or suspicion when I encounter a stranger of “that group?” Do I interact with people from an “other group” in a natural and unguarded way? To what extent do I have neighbors, friends, and colleagues from an “other group” with whom I relate on a continuing basis as equals? Do I see value in racial and ethnic diversity? Have I evolved, am I evolving in my feelings toward these “other groups,” and if so, in what ways?
- Prejudices often lie deep beneath the surface and can take a very long time to access–months, often years. To get in touch with unconscious attitudes and responses requires empty space in one’s daily life, which is to say some time in each day when you are alone and mentally disengaged: not reading, not surfing the web, not watching TV, not listening to the radio, not listening to music. You can be walking or running or swimming, riding an exercise bike or walking on a treadmill. You can be sitting in a quiet place or soaking in the bathtub. But it does require some silent, solitary time built into your life. It is essential to figure out a way to make space in your daily routine to let your list of questions float about within and around you.
- As things begin to surface, talk with a trusted friend or spiritual advisor about your findings and personal discoveries. Tell them some of the memories, stories, and incidents from your life that seem most important in shaping your attitudes towards those of different races and ethnicities. Ask them to share their impressions and thoughts about what you have told them. Sometimes we cannot see our own behavior and attitudes clearly, and need to rely on others to be “mirrors” for us.
- If you do not already have close friends from other races and ethnicities, take the time to get to know at least one person of an “other group” in a meaningful way. Relate to this person, or these people, with gratitude, realizing that they are taking time to be with you and may have prejudices toward your group–and, for them, it may feel risky to tell you how they have been hurt by your group. It is impossible to fully recognize inherent or subconscious biases alone without honest exchange of thoughts and feelings with people from “the other.”
As we come to recognize our biases, we are left with the problem of what to do about them. To help us take that next step, the topic for the March 15 posting will be “How to address our racial and ethnic prejudices.”
There are some things within us that are so far beneath the surface of our movement and our functioning that we are unmindful not only of their presence but also of the quality of their influence in our decisions, our judgment, and our behavior. In the quietness we will their exposure before God, that they may be lifted to the center of our focus, that we may know what they are and seek to deal with them in keeping with our health and our inmost wisdom.
– Howard Thurman, For the Inward Journey, pp. 5,6
It is no easy task to identify the best candidates for a leadership group. We cannot know what lies ahead and we may not accurately perceive the qualities needed to lead the community into the future. There may be people in our midst whose strengths we fail to recognize. And Scripture records God consistently calling people to do things for which they are not the obvious choice—individuals who do not appear to have what is needed to do what is asked of them.
In light of this, once we make an informed logical determination, we need to offer our efforts to God and enter the flow of the Holy Spirit, ready to be carried to a place where God can broaden our perspective and enhance our insight. The process is likely to require two or three meetings. A good way to set the tone is to begin each meeting with five or ten minutes of silence with the intention that everyone use that time to open their hearts and minds to the divine presence. Below are some steps you may want to follow.
- Reflectively develop a list of the skills, areas of expertise, and personal qualities the leadership team will need.
- Looking through an entire list of eligible people, identify all of the people who could contribute to the combined needs of the leadership group.
- In an atmosphere of prayerful silence, with the needs you identified clearly in your minds, take time adequate for everyone to review the entire list of possible candidates with an eye to diversity and balance in terms of age, gender, conservative/liberal, long-time members versus more recent members of the community, and other groupings that need representation.
- Reflectively share thoughts, pausing between speakers to absorb what is being said. Allow for the possibility that some people might decline an invitation to serve. Continue until a slate of nominees and backups emerges and congeals.
- Next take a block of time (maybe 45 minutes, an hour, or even longer) to offer to God yourselves and all that you have done together so far. Hold it all in silence, letting creative associations percolate up from deep inside you—images from nature; passages or people from Scripture; paintings or sculpture; scenes or characters from a movie, TV program, or play; selections of music; analogies from sports or family life or history or politics. Maintain the silence, allowing opportunity for all who want to share what comes to them. When a person says something that resonates, others can build on it. Stay with it until things come together, consensus emerges, and a sense of peace settles in.
- Then review the list of nominees in light of your time of group meditation, making modifications if indicated.
- Conclude with free and open prayers.
Listening Hearts has DISCERNMENT LISTENING GUIDELINES that provide good norms for a nominating group to use when seeking God’s guidance as it discerns candidates. These guidelines can be found in Appendix 1 of Grounded in God by Farnham, Hull, and McLean or on the Listening Hearts website. Attractive laminated copies can be ordered from the Listening Hearts office by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Retirement initiates a major life transition. For some it is an escape from work that was drudgery. For others it means letting go of a position that has defined who they are. For some it means a lower standard of living. For others it sets them free to do things they never before had time to do. For married people it changes their relationship with their spouse.
Discerning when and how to retire involves looking at your health and finances, your life’s work and dreams for the future, and the effect your retirement will have on others. Below are guidelines that may be of help if you are wrestling with when to retire.
- Schedule a few minutes of silence near the beginning or end of each day to plant yourself with God at the center of your being while letting the possibilities of retirement hover at the edges.
- Carefully calculate what your financial resources will be upon retirement. Then make a list of expenses that will be absolutely essential: food, housing, utilities, clothing, medical costs, transportation needs. Next calculate the minimum cost of additional things that are extremely important to you such as gift giving, hobbies, entertainment, travelling to visit family. And finally come up with an additional figure for other things that ideally you would like to be able to do in retirement. If you need help assessing your financial situation, you may have a friend or relative who can help. Or you can look for help by going to “financial planning for retirement” on the internet.
- If you want to take time to get in touch with feelings and the deep thoughts of your heart about your job, set aside time to become still. For several minutes, in your body try to feel your job and all that is related to it. Wait to see if an image springs up from your depths. If an image emerges, meditate on it, pondering shapes, colors, possible sounds and smells and other associations that may speak to your situation. Explore any analogies that come to you. In time, possibly begin to write a stream-of-consciousness passage, a conversation with God, or a poem. You may want to take coloring pens to express your feelings on paper by the colors you select, the shapes you form, how hard or softly you press the pens against the paper. If a strong image has come to you, let it become embedded within you and speak to you over time. This exercise can be done in a single chunk of time or spread out over several days.
- Explore your deeper feelings about retirement by implanting in your body a sense of what it would be like to be retired. Then follow the same procedures as laid out above. Whatever you do, allow things to reveal themselves over a span of time
- Spend some time writing about the trajectory your work and vocation has taken over the course of your life. What was exciting about the work you did, what was drudgery? How does your current work feel in terms of excitement or drudgery? Are there things in life that you deeply desire that would be possible if you were retired?.
- It can be helpful to ask one or more trusted friends, family members, and/or co-workers to spend some time with you either one-on-one or in a cluster to quietly listen to your musings as you consider when you might retire. Request that they listen deeply, without judgment, and that they offer no advice. Let them know that you would like them to listen carefully and then allow time for what you say to settle in, and only after that to pose brief, clear, thoughtful questions that you can think and pray about, or that you can respond to if you feel ready to do so.
- As you near a decision, as confirmation look for signs of the Spirit such as the same message coming to you through different channels; strands of your life converging; feelings of joy; surging energy; and the preeminent sign, a sense of deep inner peace. The absence of this final sign is a warning that something is unresolved.
- If you are married, have some conversations with your spouse to ascertain his or her needs as well as your own. The two of you together may want to make use of some of the above suggestions, doing some discernment as a couple.
- As you look toward retirement, take time to develop a plan for the first few months so that you are not left with a huge void in your life.
- Even after you set a date for retirement, continue to take the time each day to be quiet and hold your plan in God’s presence.
Be patient with yourself as you consider retirement and after you retire. Retirement is not one, but many transitions. It may take time to let go of what is and move forward into what can be. Your life is a journey that has brought you to the place you now stand.
The death of a spouse is a profound loss. It affects life on most every level, setting off a major life transition. No two people’s needs are identical. Each person handles things in a different way. It takes a discerning heart to sense how to be most helpful. Here are some things to consider:
- Several times a day, snatch a few minutes of inner stillness to hold the new widow/widower at the center of your being.
- In addition to your ears, listen with your eyes to sense the needs of your bereaved friend or relative. If possible, try to have some alone time with them to share memories, let them talk, and draw them out. Sit still and just be present. There is no need to respond to expressions of emotions and deep feelings that may pour out from him/her. Frequently, those who have suffered such a loss feel extreme anger or remorse. S/he may need to “tell the story” again and again. Listen patiently, even though you may have heard it several times. Your role here is not to problem-solve, but to allow her/him to express whatever s/he is feeling at that moment, without judgment. And remember that each person responds in his or her own way to loss and sorrow. There is no right way or correct length of time for this phase of grief.
- Over the course of time, gradually ask yourself questions such as: Does s/he need more time to be alone and mourn in private? Does s/he need more opportunity to be with people and work through the emotional complexities of all that has unraveled? Does s/he need more quiet social companionship? Does s/he need help going through the personal possessions of the deceased? Does s/he need help getting a handle on financial matters? Does s/he need help getting ahold of legal forms and documents needed for settling the estate? Does s/he need help getting out thank you notes? Does s/he need help managing household responsibilities or property upkeep? Does s/he need an invitation to a holiday meal or to celebrate a birthday? Is s/he ready for a more active social life? Is it time for a day-trip or an overnight outing for a brief change of scenery? Might a pastoral counselor or a grief support group be right for this person?
- Do not look for immediate and decisive answers to your questions. Stay fluid and open. No individual can be all things to another person. To discern where and how you best fit into the picture, await signs of the Spirit to signal your direction. First and foremost, look for a deep calm to settle in beneath ripples of uncertainty within you. That is the peace of God, the one essential sign. A lingering sense of agitation indicates that the discernment needs more time. An inflow of energy or joy is a positive sign. As you proceed, stay attuned to the movement of the Spirit, alert to signs that may wane or new signs that may arise. Follow the flow of the Spirit.
- If possible, recruit a few of your friends who are spiritually inclined to gather on some sort of a regular basis to help you with this discernment.
- A new widow/widower may be considering changes that require discernment such as: a move from their current home or a major geographic relocation; a change in lifestyle precipitated by financial or emotional considerations; choice of advisors (legal, financial, etc.); new relationships that may include dating/courting. As their friend or relative you may have strong opinions about their choices. However, we can never know for sure what is best for another person. Be cautious about your unsolicited advice. Even if your perception is right, such advice often is not well received and can set up barriers to future communication. In the event your advice is requested, be a calm, caring listener and encourage the conversation in a way that allows the person to consider the pros and cons in a healthy way and arrive at his or her own decision after more discernment.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my heart, illumine me,
–words by Charles H. Scott from the hymn “Open My Eyes”
The loss of a job can be one of the more traumatic events in a person’s life. It impacts our sense of identity and our relationships with family members and friends. Loss of employment forces us into transition. How can we deal with the financial, emotional and spiritual issues that arise when this happens and how can we discern a way forward through the transition and towards good decision-making for the future?
- Make self-care a priority. A good night’s sleep, regular exercise, eating well, and taking time for prayer will reduce stress. Try to take a few minutes every day to quietly open yourself to God’s presence. Avoid isolating yourself. Be aware of signs of depression, changes in alcohol or medication patterns, anxiety and obsessive thinking that can diminish energy and negatively affect your moving forward. Try to think in a way that is constructive rather than destructive. Anger, fear, resentment, self-judgment, frustration, “why me?” thinking are normal reactions, but if continued too long can interfere with developing constructive attitudes and behaviors needed for a positive resolution. It is important to recognize your emotions and fully feel them. Then move on; avoid getting stuck in your feelings or letting them launch you into reckless action.
- Take time to be with God. While there is much work to be done when looking for a new job, don’t neglect spending time in quiet reflection. Use meditation techniques to keep yourself open to the movement of the Spirit.
- Try using a job search as a chance to gain fresh perspective. This transition time offers the opportunity to reevaluate and reassess vocation and lifestyle by identifying your strengths and weaknesses, your skills and abilities, your needs both financial and psychological as well as those of your family or others who may depend on you. During this time you may also look at the potential for further education or training to prepare you for future opportunities. This can be a time to start a business you always wanted to open, or consider retirement. Think about short term strategies as well as long-term goals. For example, you may address needs for income while pursuing longer-range employment opportunities.
- Involve your loved ones. Job change may dramatically affect their lives. Include them in your planning. They may serve as important resources, and their buy-in to future changes can be critical to quality of life for the whole family, including you. Also be aware that they may be in emotional turmoil over an uncertain future because of your job loss. Fear, anger, anxiety, or impatience may negatively affect their participation in the planning process and may distract the family unit from moving forward in a healthy discernment process. Seek assistance as may be appropriate in this family transition time, perhaps consulting your pastor or a family counselor.
- Be prepared. As you pursue job opportunities, be ready to put your best self forward for interviews and for all contacts with potential employment possibilities. Carefully research the job or business opportunities in advance. Consider how your background, education, skills, abilities and interests intersect with the specific employment you seek. Be prepared to articulate your interest in the position both orally and in writing. Utilize professionals or trusted friends who have your best interests at heart to serve as counselors, coaches, guides and good listeners as you work through this transition to good resolution.
- Be calm and centered as you approach the interviewing process. It can help if you ask questions, listening to learn what the prospective employer is looking for before saying too much yourself. It is wise to be interested in what is important to them.
- Be aware of any kindness that people show you and good things that may happen to you. A grateful heart tends to draw people to you and make you a happier, healthier person, which makes it easier for you to persevere in what can be a long and grueling search.
- Throughout this time, be alert to signs of God’s Spirit such as messages that keep recurring; threads of your life that start to come together; surges of joy or energy; and feelings of quiet confidence. Enter into them and try to follow where they lead.
- Allow yourself grace. Even though the loss of employment has thrust you into an unexpected and challenging time, let yourself be open to the grace that can support and sustain you and your family during this difficult time.
Sometimes we have a yearning to grow closer to God. We sense that a regular discipline could help cultivate a more intimate relationship. We may get off to what seems like a good start, but then find it hard to stick with it.
As you develop a plan for a spiritual discipline, you may want to focus on either meditation or on contemplation—or possibly include some of each. Meditation implies quietly reflecting on a single thought or image (an excerpt from Scripture or spiritual literature, a painting, an icon, an image from nature, a piece of music). Contemplation, on the other hand, implies trying to let go of all thoughts, feelings, and images so that they simply float at the periphery. The intent is to be as an empty vessel, totally open to the Spirit of God. In contemplation, for the most part, we are unaware that anything is happening—the creative power of God is secretly at work in us. An awareness of what God was doing may emerge at some later time.
Here are some things to consider that may help:
- Set reasonable goals. If you are a creature of habit who can easily start doing something (nearly) every day, set out to do so. If you are not that type of person, set a goal like three to five times per week, or of taking no more than two days off in a row.
- Along similar lines, don’t try too much silence at first. If you’re new to it, one or two minutes of silence may be a long time! And it’s a very reasonable goal for now. Over time, gradually increase the length of the silence until it reaches 10 or 20 minutes.
- Set a goal that is doable. It is best to establish a plan that you can succeed at. You then can gradually add to the plan so that it grows with you as your spiritual life develops.
- Find a quiet spot for your practice. While no place in our daily lives is completely silent, look for a place where distractions will be at a minimum.
- If you use a smartphone or tablet, consider trying out one or two meditation timer apps. Some of them include features like silencing all other sounds from your device during your period of quiet, and ending your silent time with a soft, pleasant bell or gong that might be less jarring than a regular alarm. Don’t forget to turn off notifications for your device if your app doesn’t do it for you. One app that we have used is the free basic Insight Timer for Android and Apple devices. (If you have an app that helps with meditation, do let us know!)
- Experiment to find a bodily position or physical activity that helps you stay centered. Some possibilities: Sit upright in a straight chair; sit cross-legged on a pillow on the floor; kneel; walk; jog; swim slowly; ride a stationary bike.
- There are many practices that might help you stay focused at your center: holding something in your hand(s) such as a small wooden cross, prayer beads, or a ball of clay. A focal point such as a lighted candle, an icon, or a seashell. Singing a chant. A breathing prayer like “Holy Spirit” (inhaling), “live in me” (exhaling). A mantra (a word or phrase that you silently repeat over and over). A sacred word, designated as sacred by you e.g. “Abba,” “Come,” or “Light” that you utter silently as you begin, thereafter only when you catch your mind becoming active.
When establishing a new practice, it’s helpful to persist in it long enough for it to become established. You may feel like a new practice is “no good” or isn’t working. This may be true, but it’s sometimes difficult to know that right away. Give yourself time to struggle and adjust before making radical changes. If aspects of your practice continue to feel awkward, and you have a trusted friend or spiritual companion (perhaps, but not necessarily, a spiritual director or member of the clergy), discuss it with that person. Keep in mind, though, that bad advice can be worse than no advice, and trust in your own self-knowledge and that of friends who are close to you. Sometimes struggle can be an important gateway into a new insight – and, sometimes, continued struggle is an indication that something should change. Try not to jump to conclusions, but be open to the prompting of the Spirit as you discern how to change, modify, add to or eliminate aspects of your practice. Beware of sticking with something only from a sense of obligation.