Welcome to Hope-Sessions

Welcome!

The purpose of the blogs and Hope Sessions podcasts is to provide encouragement and a perspective you may not have thought about before. However, these messages cannot possibly cover every angle or detail of a topic. Each person’s experiences are unique, and as a therapist, I so appreciate this.  Therefore, if you feel like what you read covers just one angle of your experience, you are probably right.

Ultimately, I am a therapist, and if you feel like you need to process your story, or you feel stuck and you’re hurting – please reach out.  I would be glad to schedule an appointment with you or help you to find someone else who can best help.

The Courage it Takes

It may possibly be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Your mind fills with questions and doubts. You think, “this will never work” or “I don’t really need this.”

It’s not easy and it takes a tremendous about of courage to pick up the phone, dial the number, and schedule the appointment. Just getting this far can be all the courage you have today. That’s okay. You did it.

Taking a risk and seeking therapy means admitting something isn’t working right in your life. It means being vulnerable and sharing with someone the parts that we try to hide – the pain, the brokenness, anxieties, fear and disappointments.

Maybe you’ve tried to ignore the problem, maybe you’ve tried to read a book, talk to a friend or pastor but the problem is still there, always looming in the background.

You’ve reached a breaking point. Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Believe it or not, this is the perfect place to be. Asking for help is where change starts and growth begins.

All the emotion you’re feeling as you pick up the phone, wait through the ringing and finally utter the words to set up an appointment is such a good sign in your life.

It’s a sign of hope in the midst of hopelessness and healing in the midst of pain. You’ve recognized that something isn’t right and you’ve decided you’re going to do something about it: something new — something different — something that takes courage.

While you’re reaching out to a therapist who you likely haven’t met yet, you’re not alone and whatever you’re experiencing isn’t going to shock or surprise them.

You’re human. Part of being human means you experience feelings and emotions that sometimes need to be talked through with a trusted guide, a therapist whose role is to journey with you and help you find solutions.

The therapist isn’t going to solve your problems for you, they’re going to come alongside you, support you and help you see things in a different way so that you can take the next step forward.

You are not alone. Many have walked this road before you and many will walk it after you. Maybe you’re thinking, “none of my other friends have sought therapy.”

But you know what? Don’t worry about anyone else. Focus on what you need to do for yourself. Don’t get lost in comparing yourself to anyone – that’s a game you can never win. You will either become complacent because you’re not as “bad” as them, or you will completely shut down because you feel like a total failure. It’s a distraction.

Focus on you, your goals and what you want to accomplish. And you know what? The courage and bravery it takes to make that call, schedule the appointment, and come to my office for the first time doesn’t go unnoticed. I notice it every time a client opens my office door and sits down on my couch to share their story.

I admire you. Change is hard. Asking for help is hard. But you’re here and that takes courage. I believe we were never meant to journey through the ups and downs of life alone and it’s my honor and deep privilege to share in your story and journey alongside you.

Psalms: True Rest

What is rest?  For some it seems elusive.  And for some, it may even be avoided.  I’ve heard it said, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.”  For others, trying to “rest” may be difficult, with a noisy world and an even noisier mind.

I think we all have a picture of what rest is.  Maybe for you it’s a relaxing massage, a vacation on a beach, time with friends and family, spending time outside, reading a good book, or maybe it’s as simple as a nap. But I’m going to challenge us to go deeper on this topic.

Have you noticed that we tend to fill all of our empty time with activity?  Why do we do this?  What are we trying to avoid?  If we rest or slow down, we have to face ourselves without distraction and I’m not sure we always want to do this.    

But the Lord invites us to a different kind of rest.  We’ll visit the Psalms again for more insight.  It’s here, in Psalm 23:1-3 that a rest for our mind, body, and soul is described:

“1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.”

In verse 1, David states that God is his shepherd; the one who leads him and takes care of him, and us. Because of this, David had everything he needed, and so do we – when we allow God to lead us.

Although it may not always feel this way; the point of the verse is that it is this way; it’s the truth.  Acknowledging God as our shepherd will allow us to have this mindset, or a change of perspective.  If we know that God is leading us and taking care of us, it gives us the opportunity to truly rest.  He’s in control, so we don’t have to be.

In verse 2, David describes that the Lord makes him lie down in green pastures and leads him beside still waters; to a landscape of perfect peace and refreshing water.

Can you picture this? Take a minute – close your eyes and imagine this scene; you’re lying in a green pasture, soft grass, with calm, still water nearby.  Not fast-moving rapids, but water you can see your reflection in, it’s so still.  Can you feel the breeze on your face?  The warmth or cool on your skin?  What a beautiful gift this image is from the Lord.

In verse 3, David says that the Lord restores his soul; he reinvigorates him in his weariness.  He goes on to describe that God leads him in paths of righteousness, or shows him the right way to go, as He promises to do for all of us.

Maybe the avoidance of rest that I spoke about above has to do with hearing from God.  Are we afraid He may tell us we’re on the wrong path?  Or that He may confirm something we already know – that His plans are different than the plans we have for ourselves?  Listening can be scary.  Staying busy sometimes feels safer.

But who are we fooling? Do we really think God is limited in His creativity to get our attention or to change our direction?  Think of Jonah (see Jonah, chapters 1-2).  Could it be that maybe He just wants to tell us He loves us, or that He has more for us than we could have imagined for ourselves? We’ll explore this more below.

So what can we learn from this descriptive passage of Scripture, about what rest really is?

1. When we trust God to lead us, we will have what we need. I know there are times when this can be difficult to accept. You may be saying, ‘I don’t have what I need – I can’t even pay my bills’, or ‘I don’t have what I need – I’m alone.’  

But, consider that we will find we have what we need by believing and trusting in God and what He says, during the dry spell; when it’s scary, things don’t add up and we don’t have answers?  What if what we really need is deeper than bills paid on time or companionship?  Not that God doesn’t care about those things; I think He does.  But what if our rest is found in realizing what we need the most is Him?

2. God makes us stop the busyness and get refreshment.Some of us accept His guidance with ease, and others tend to fight the break from our agenda, which is why I believe that we sometimes have to be made to slow down or stop.

Most translations have the word “makes” in verse 2 – “he makes me lie down in green pastures”.  Isn’t that interesting?  Could it be that our Creator knows when we need to rest? 

Have you ever wondered why you have gotten sick right when you thought you needed to be well – when the pressure was really on?  Our bodies will sometimes get rundown, because we haven’t taken time to rest, and God can even use these times of infirmity to remind us to slow down and take time to rest.  We are not machines.

3. Part of deep rest is connecting with God. He wants to connect with us, to show and guide us in the right way to go. Sometimes we’re already on the right road, and we just need some encouragement to continue on the journey. But sometimes, we need a reset, a U-turn, or an entirely different path.  He loves us so much that He wants to tell us what we need to hear. 

Not only are we blessed by connecting with God, and being led in the right direction, but doing the right thing allows us to rest.  Think about it – when we are headed in the wrong direction or making choices that we know aren’t right for us, or we are going against what we believe (cognitive dissonance), we don’t have peace, and we can’t rest.

But if we listen to the way that God is telling us to go, even if the road is sometimes tough, we have peace; we can rest, because we know it’s the right way.

So, let me ask you – do you need some rest today?  Are you a weary traveler in life?  Do you feel like you may have lost your way?  Ask God for rest today.  Take time and read these verses from Psalm 23 for yourself.  I believe He will meet you there.  After all, He promises to.

Psalms: To Lament

According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (2018), a lament is, “an expression of grief or sorrow.”

The Psalms are full of songs of lament, where the Psalmist is crying out to God in sorrow, grief and regret.  Feeling alone, persecuted, lost, angry, grief-stricken and more.

Maybe you’re lamenting something or someone right now – a lost relationship, job, a diagnosis, an illness, or maybe even a loved one?  Or maybe you’re feeling far from the Lord, like He has forgotten you?

Maybe, in your situation, you have been avoiding your emotions.  You have been trying to keep busy or distracted to not face how you’re really feeling.  Watching tv, spending too much time on social media, overeating, overspending, maybe using drugs or alcohol to numb yourself.  All the while, your emotions are stuffed deeper inside.

Sometimes this avoidance of dealing with and expressing our deeper emotions comes out in petty arguments and picking fights.  Feeling “on edge” and irritated.

Meanwhile the answer for relief is in being willing to acknowledge how you’re really feeling.  Ironically, much of the time our deep emotions, including anger and disappointment are not with the people we pick fights with; but they’re really with God.  

Why do you think the Lord included Psalms of lament in the Bible?  Have you thought of that before?  Maybe there’s a reason why lamenting is shared with us in the Psalms. Maybe it’s an example for us.  God does not fear our honesty in coming to Him; it’s us who fear coming to God honestly.

Consider this quote from theologian, D.A. Carson: “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God”.

Let’s consider Psalm 13:

“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,’
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

5But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

In the first few verses, David starts with an immediate question and accusation – is it going to take God forever to remember him?  He describes trying to figure things out on his own, which has left him feeling dark and sorrowful.  He feels as if his enemies are basically winning.

In verses 3 and 4, David petitions God to remember him, to not allow him to waste away.  He asks for God to enliven him – put the life back in him. David explains that it would be wrong for his enemy, or in this context, for evil to win, or to have the victory.

And finally, in verses 5 and 6, David reminds both God and him, of God’s faithfulness; stating with confidence that things will be okay, as God has been faithful to him in the past, and so David declares that he will continue to praise and trust God.

Psalm 13 is one of the shortest laments in the book of Psalms.  And so it works well in the context of a blog.  But please don’t miss the significance of David’s experience expressed here.

Once again, we don’t know how long it really took David to go from asking where God was, to choosing to trust God to come through.  Many of the Psalms follow a similar format; starting with desperate cries to the Lord and ending in praise.  But not all Psalms of lament do.

Some Psalms express the Psalmists anguish, which they poured out to the Lord for many verses, with no expression of resolution or praise at the end.  And that may be where you are at.  And that’s okay; it’s honest.

But let me ask you – do you relate?  Do you feel as if God has left you?  Tell Him how you feel.  Are you exhausted trying to figure out what to do, or how to respond?  Tell Him how you feel.  Do you feel like your enemies have the upper hand, like they’re winning? Tell Him how you feel.

If it’s difficult to say it, consider writing your own Psalm.  We have 150 Psalms in the Bible as examples.  Use the Psalmists words or write your own. Or consider writing a letter, to God. Or draw a picture. Or tell Him outloud. He’s made each of us uniquely, and you should communicate with Him in the way that feels most natural to you. However it’s packaged, I encourage you to express to God what you need to say.

As always, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or you’re not even sure where to begin, I encourage you to reach out to a pastor, therapist or trusted friend.  You are not alone.

Psalms: Guilt & Shame

We will all make mistakes, and at times feel guilty about what we’ve done, and the choices we’ve made.  When we cross over from feeling regret and remorse for something we did into shame then we have a deeper issue; the feelings can make us sick emotionally and even physically.

Guilt is appropriate and urges us to confess and/or ask for forgiveness.  Shame makes us hide.

A simple way to understand the difference between the two is that guilt says, ‘I did something wrong’ while shame says, ‘I amsomething wrong’.  Do you see the difference?  One is the action that is wrong the other is the belief that something is inherently and deeply wrong with you.

Some of us have made some terrible decisions that have caused deep pain in those we love, or maybe deep pain in someone we don’t even know.  While God helps us to acknowledge the wrong things we have done and feel guilt for them (again, to spur us into action) – I don’t believe He wants us to stay in that place.  And I don’t believe it’s ever His will for us to feel shame.

Let’s look at what David penned in Psalm 32:3-5, referencing his own sin:

“3For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah”

In verses 3-4, David gives a vivid physical description here of struggling with his sin and guilt.  He says that his bones “wasted away” when he kept silent – when he did not confess his sins, what he had done.  He describes carrying the weight of his guilt as God’s hand being “heavy upon me”.

Can you relate to feeling like this?  Have you carried guilt around for too long, are you carrying guilt around now? Something you know you need to confess, or ask forgiveness for, but maybe it’s felt like too much to face.

Or maybe the guilt has been there so long it has turned into shame, which is destructive and like poison to our hearts.

I think it’s possible that God does keep his hand heavy upon us when we have something we need to confess, or come clean about, to prevent the guilt from turning into shame and harming us.

But David gives us the solution here to being burdened and weighed down by guilt – confession.  Not covering it up, running away, denying, avoiding, rationalizing, overcompensating – but, confessing.

We can be so creative in our avoidance of confessing guilt.  Confession is uncomfortable and sometimes even anxiety producing – but on the other side of it is not only found relief, but a promise from God that He will forgive the iniquity of our sins, just as David describes in verse 5 above.

What a beautiful promise this is.

So what about shame?

We can experience shame for many different reasons.  I am not talking here about the shame that many people feel after experiencing sexual abuse.  This is a different subject and it’s not tied with guilt.  Sexual abuse is not something you did, it was something wrong someone did to you.

The shame I’m talking about here is tied to something we did wrong.  It’s the feeling of being ugly, dirty, fundamentally broken, worse than anyone else – alone.  Shame makes us hide out – for fear of light, or exposure.  We’re afraid we’ll be found to be all the terrible things we believe we are.

Sometimes when someone has been sitting in unconfessed sin and guilt for so long, they’ve built a whole life around it – overcompensating for what they’ve done, in order to avoid the shame they have deep in their hearts about themselves.

It’s become so terrifying to look inward, it’s as if they’re involved in a perpetual juggling act to make sure no one really sees them for who they are, including themselves.

There is hope.  There is a way out.  Let’s look at Isaiah 1:18:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”

This verse starts with an invitation.  God invites us to reason with him, to talk with Him about what He’s going to say. Then he goes onto the promise – whatever we have done, will be washed away, fully, completely.  He will make it as if what we did never happened.

Matthew Henry (1708-1710), in his commentary describes the verse this way:

“Though our sins have been as scarlet and crimson, a deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original corruption, and afterwards in the many threads of actual transgression; though we have often dipped into sin, by many backslidings; yet pardoning mercy will take out the stain”. 

So if our sins have had the deepest cleanse possible – done by God himself, through the sacrifice of Jesus – who are we to hold on to them; to allow the mistakes we have made to define us?

Christian, if you relate with feeling shame, with hiding, with feeling alone, like you are the worst person in the world and without hope… the feelings are real but they are not based on your true standing in Jesus.  They are based on lies.  God promises forgiveness to us and complete cleansing – what you have done no longer defines you.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” 

Accepting our identity as forgiven people can be challenging, particularly if you’ve felt guilty and full of shame for a long time.  But it is possible to have this truth become your reality – your identity.

One of the simplest and most powerful ways is by writing on paper the lies you have been believing and next to them replacing them with Scripture, which is the truth.  Each time you struggle with shame – when the lies come back – you go back to the verse that speaks the truth.  Eventually these words will become your default, your identity.

If you are struggling today, if you’ve tried all you can, and you’re still bound up in guilt and shame, please reach out to a trusted pastor or therapist.  As I’ve said before, we’re here to help.  You are not alone.  Checkout John 10:10 to be reminded of this.

Psalms: We Need to Remember

How good is your memory?  Quick – think of the clothes you wore for the last seven days – including undergarments.  Remember? Yes – okay, you won!  Skip to the next paragraph.   For the rest of us, how about the last five days?  No?  Three days? No?!  Do you know what you’re wearing now?  Hopefully the answer is yes on that one.

Memory, remembrance, is a complicated thing. There are many reasons we remember some things so clearly and not others.  Like what you wore this past week, or what you ate today.  But let’s go deeper, and consider more significantly – why is it important to remember?

Well, to start with, it’s our history, our story. If we don’t remember, it’s hard to tell the story.  And I would say, it’s not only important to tell our story to others, but how about to ourselves?  Did you know you’re telling yourself yourstory much of the time (“self-talk”)?

Think about it.  It may be something like:

  • This always happens to me…
  • Why should it work out? I’m just a (fill in the blank).

Or maybe the story you’re telling yourself is more along the lines of:

  • Things always work out the way they’re supposed to.
  • I was worried last time, and everything was fine. It will be okay. 

But how about the part of our story where God entered in (although, wasn’t He there all along?).  For some it’s dramatic, for others it may be gradual, or even a simple, peaceful moment.  Do you remember His faithfulness?

Can you recall the times you doubted, and he blew your expectations out of the water?  How about times of quiet victory or comfort; the things only you know in your heart where your Heavenly Father came through for you in an intimate way?  How about the times of wrestling and struggling, and finally giving in to realize He knew best?

In Joshua 4, Joshua describes the time after the nation of Israel had finished passing over the Jordan and God instructed Joshua to take twelve men, one from each tribe, and twelve stones to make an altar to God where they camped for the night.  The Lord then instructed Joshua about the altar:

…this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”  Joshua 4:6-7

God instructed the Israelites to be deliberate in setting up a memorial – a way to remember, and be able to tell the story, of God’s faithfulness to them. 

What a beautiful picture this is – God wanted to help the people remember how he came through for them, His faithfulness and care for his children.  Why? Maybe it’s because He knows we forget. And how much of our anxiety is caused by our forgetting that God is with us, and He has been and will continue to be faithful to us?

We begin telling ourselves our versions of our story.  And unfortunately, our versions, without God’s light and truth illuminating them, can be limited and skewed.  See Isaiah 55:8-9 and Proverbs 3:5-6.

In the Psalms, the Psalmists tell us how they will remember what God has done and who He is.  They are intentional in their statements of this remembrance:

“I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember your wonders of old.” Psalm 77:11

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,” Psalm 105:5

“I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law.” Psalm 119:55

So while we may not be traveling in the desert, with stones and tribes – we are journeying through life.  How can we setup memorial places to remember God’s faithfulness in our lives?  These “places” will likely be figurative and not actual places; like drawings, pictures, words written on walls, journal entries, or a hundred other things that may work for you.

But whatever the memorial is, I encourage you to take the time to make that memorial place, to put a marker on the map of your life, when it was so clear that your story and God’s story were one.

Psalms: Finding God in Our Anxiety

“There are times in our lives when our peace is based simply on our own ignorance.  But when we are awakened to the realities of life, true inner peace is impossible unless it is received from Jesus.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (1935).

I love this quote, because I believe it captures so well the true condition we are in, while living our earthly lives.  I’ve written it down and carried it with me in working with clients since first starting out as a therapist a decade ago.

Anxiety is real and common. 

We have all experienced forms of anxiety; some more than others.  For some people it’s a nuisance, for others it causes distress, while for others it can be debilitating.

But what does the Bible have to say about anxiety?  Let’s look at the Psalms.  Psalm 94:19 (ESV):

“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”

In this translation, the word “cares” is used, however in other translations, the word is “anxiety” or “anxious thoughts.” The Psalmist is describing that he experiences times where he has many anxious thoughts.

Do you relate?  I believe that we all can relate to times when our cares, anxieties, worries are many.

The verse goes onto describe that God’s “consolations cheer my soul”.  What does this mean?  Consolation means comfort after a loss or disappointment and in some other translations, the word “cheer” is instead, “delight”.

I like what Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers (1897) explains: “Delight.—Literally, stroke, and so soothe. The Hebrew word is used in Isaiah 66:11 of a mother quieting her child with the breast, and in Jeremiah 16:7 of the cup of consolation given to mourners at funerals.”

What a beautiful picture this is of God’s comfort for us during times of anxiety.  God comforts and soothes us.  I wonder how many of us pray for God to comfort and soothe us when we are anxious? I’m not even sure that I had thought of needing comfort and soothing while feeling anxious – I think I’ve mostly prayed that it would just go away.  I’m sure you relate.

But maybe, God’s not going to take the anxiety away.  Maybe, our experience of anxiety, and reaching out to God for help, gives Him the opportunity to comfort and soothe us, as a good mother would her child who is upset.

God desires intimacy and closeness with us. Why wouldn’t He use the experience of anxiety to draw us close to Him?

Let’s now look at Psalm 112:7 (ESV):

“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.”

How many of us experience anxiety as the fear of “bad news” coming our way – whether real or imagined?  The reality is, we will have both.  Bad news will come our way eventually; there will be emergency situations we weren’t necessarily expecting.  There will be loss of things, positions, health, and of important people in our lives… on this earth.

But there will also be the imaginings of bad news; things that aren’t at all real that come to our minds.  And in this verse, the “bad news” that is described here includes both the real and the imagined.

The Psalmist goes on to describe that his heart is firm – immovable – because he is trusting in the Lord and in His love and grace “which is sufficient for him even in the worst of times” (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, 1748-63).

When we call to mind God’s love for us, it strengthens us.  So, what are our worries when compared to the love of God?

And here’s the trick or lie of anxiety – it has a big bark with no bite – the big bark is because it involves your mind and physical sensations in your body; nervousness, digestive upset, panic, and more. Because we can feel it so strongly – we think – it must be real!  But much of anxiety is not.  It’s really a lot of “what ifs.”

Think about the movie version of the Wizard of Oz. Everyone in the land of Oz feared the great and powerful wizard.  Dorothy and her friends endured so much to get to the wizard so that they could beg him to give them what they needed.

They finally arrived and fearfully approach – the loud voice, the smoke, the fire, the video of the strange looking man – he was as they imagined him to be – scary!  But then something happens, and the giant “wizard” breaks down.  Come to find out, it’s just an old man hiding behind the curtain, trying desperately to get his machine working again.  This, the scared old man, is all that much of anxiety is. Impotent, with no ability to actually help us.  All bark, no bite.

But our God on the other hand, is very real. And He is so much greater than any anxiety we could ever have.  Remembering how big our God is in comparison to how small and powerless our imagination is helps put things in their proper perspective, bringing calm to the storm.

An important note:  If your experience of anxiety feels out of control or is disrupting your ability to function in your daily life, you probably need professional help. It will be okay and we’ll walk you through it.  That’s what therapists are here for!  Feel free to reach out to me and if I can’t help you, I would be glad to help you get to someone who can.

Psalms: Unanswered Questions

How many questions did you ask Google today?  If you’re like me, you may have lost count.  It could be things as simple as the price of a brand of vitamins, and how to take a screenshot on a new phone; in other words, nothing too deep.  But it all points to the fact that we like answers; and quickly.

So this could explain why we are so uncomfortable, confused and hurt by things in our lives we may not have answers for; prayers that seemed to go unanswered.  Things that we have hoped or longed for, that we still don’t have.

Like, that relationship, that pregnancy, that home, that healing, that success, that reconciliation.  You likely know what that is for you.

Let’s talk first about owning our desire for these things.  Desire is not wrong.  The Bible actually encourages us to come to God with our desires. Here are a few verses:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”  Matthew 7:7-11

So, it’s okay to ask, beg, pray, and wrestle with God.  After all, this is what He tells us to do.

But what if we don’t get an answer?  How do we get to the place where we can accept the not knowing?  Could the answer be in seeking after the Lord, for Himself, and not for what he can give us?  Wanting God more than that person or thing?

As I write these words, I feel the sting in my own heart in accepting what I believe to be true.  Does this mean dreams have to die?  I would say maybe.

Maybe a dream has to die.  Or at least the way it is right now has to die.  In other words, it could be that the thing we’re dreaming, wishing or hoping for has become so large that we can see nothing else.  Maybe it’s become an obsession; and you have become sick (emotionally, physically and spiritually) over it and your relationships are being ruined because of it.

Although there are times when we allow a dream to die, only for God to fulfill that very dream or desire – in His way and at His time.  Has this happened to you?  You’ve finally let that thing go; you may have even forgotten about it, and God ends up blessing you with it?

I love this about our Heavenly Father.  He enjoys blessing us.  But this is not a formula or trick. We’re not playing cards with the Lord.

Why do things sometimes work out after we let them go?  As Psalm 75:8 describes:

“For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.”

God is a jealous God.  But we must understand – this is no ugly, selfish, human jealousy.  I believe this is a fierce protectiveness of our hearts, which can so easily be led astray.  God knows that when we make idols of people or things, the pursuit of those people or things will eventually kill us. Literally or figuratively.  And God doesn’t want this for us.     

But, going back to my original question – how do we get to the place where we can accept the not knowing? What could God be trying to teach us in the waiting, and wondering?  Once again, we visit the Psalms, this time Psalm 55:22:

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he shall sustain you: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”

When you dig down into the original language of this verse, you find out that the “burden” referenced in this verse speaks to “thy portion – or, the lot assigned thee – that which God has given thee to bear” (Pulpit Commentary, 1880-97).

This really struck me – this verse is not simply talking about any burden, but that which God has given you or I to bear.  So here we are faced with a choice – do we still believe God is good and are we willing to still trust him when we realize he has given us the burden we’re facing?

He’s not answering your prayer in the way and time you want it answered for a reason.  And I don’t know why.  I wish that I did; for myself and for others.  But one thing I can tell you is that in therapy, I have sat with many people who wrestle with these questions.  One thing I’ve said to clients many times is that we all carry question marks in our hearts – answers we just don’t have about why things haven’t worked out.

But I challenge my clients to ask themselves the question above:  Are they still going to believe God is good and are they willing to still trust him, when they realize he has given them the burden they are facing?  I pray the answer is yes.

Psalms: Forgiveness is Hard

One of the first and most important things I was told upon becoming a Christian was that Scripture never contradicts Scripture, rather Scripture confirms Scripture.  So, if I am reading a verse and find another verse that seems to say something different, it means that I need to study further to understand the context in which the verses were written.  

Believing the Bible to be inerrant (without error), it will become clear, and it will be revealed that there’s no contradiction, once you understand the full context, and the original language used.  I firmly believe this. 

How does this apply to a study on forgiveness in the Psalms?  Well, we’re going to visit the Psalms and another book in the Bible to illuminate this topic.  

We’ll start in Psalm 103:8-12:

8The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

David, in this Psalm, describes the character and attitude of God toward us, a sinful people.  I would argue that here we have found a description of what our attitude is to be toward those who sin against us.  And what is embedded in here is a glorious description of forgiveness.  

Let’s next visit Colossians 3:13:

13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

In this verse, the Apostle Paul describes how we are to forgive one another, “as the Lord has forgiven you”.  So, when we put these verses from Psalms and Colossians together, a more complete picture comes together of what forgiveness looks like.  

While we know the answer when we are wronged is to forgive, how do we go about doing it?  It’s a process.  As much in this life is.   

There are some things we may easily forgive, and even forget – like a stolen parking place.  But for other things, particularly instances of abuse or other deep transgression, we may struggle to forgive.  

But as with most trials in life, I believe this is to draw us closer to the Lord.  After all, if it were easy to forgive, I wouldn’t likely be writing about it.

Particularly for deep wounds, there can be layers of forgiveness we have to go through.  We may have to talk about it, pray about it, and write about it again and again.  It may come up again in our hearts, in a different time or season, where we will need to go to the Lord again with it.  Or it may not; each situation is unique. 

But this isn’t just always with deep wounds.  Sometimes we take the “small” transgressions, like the stolen parking space I spoke about before, and we stack them up within our hearts and minds.  

We begin to keep a record of things done to us.  You see this in relationships – where husbands and wives can recount each and every hurtful word or deed that was done by their partner.  

And then one day we take that list and we use it to justify a complete blow up or melt down; which can show up in arguments or even divorce papers.  But can we consider that maybe the list of wrongs doesn’t have to become a mile long before we do something about it?  Maybe that’s the point of forgiving, and keeping a short record (or no record) of wrongs?

If we are to forgive “as the Lord has forgiven you”, then we should not treat one another “as our sins deserve.”

If you’re struggling to forgive someone, or many people, or maybe even yourself, I encourage you to pray for God’s help.  Pray to be able to forgive as Paul instructed in Colossians above.  Reach out to a trusted pastor or therapist if you find yourself stuck.  We are here to help.

Psalms: Don’t Fear Anger

As therapists, we don’t shy away from emotions. We appreciate and even encourage emotional expressions. I can tell you wholeheartedly that I enjoy watching movies with lots of displays of relationship and family dynamics, and expressions of emotion.

Displays of anger, particularly when expressed verbally, are powerful and typically give you a view into a person’s heart. After all, recall what the second part of Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Our words give us away, particularly when we’re angry.

Have you ever tried to pretend you weren’t upset with someone to their face? How painful is this “act”? Or maybe you tend to be passive-aggressive. So, you never quite own your anger and therefore it comes out sideways, in underhanded jabs, leaving people wondering if they just got stabbed.

Maybe your anger runs very deep, and it feels quite justified. You may have had a loved one (or someone supposed to be a loved one) that wounded or betrayed you. Is it right to feel anger toward them? What do you do with it?

Let’s look more closely at Psalm 109. This Psalm was written by King David and has 31 verses. We’re just going to focus on a few of them. First verses 1 and 2:

1Be not silent, O God of my praise!
2For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.

David cries out to God, begging him to answer his call. He describes what he is going through – people are slandering him. Being slandered, lies being told about you, is one of the most painful things to go through. Particularly when you have tried to do the right thing by the Lord and in your life. So, we can all understand, David is angry about what he’s going through.

David then begins to describe line by line all that he would like to see done to his enemies. We’ll look at a few verses here:

9May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
10May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!

Can you relate yet? If we’re honest, I think we all can. I believe we all have been so angry as to imagine harm coming to those who have hurt us. What’s amazing is that this intensity of anger is in the Bible – in a prayer to God. And the intensity does not end here – there are more verses following these that describe what King David is asking God to do to punish his enemies.

However, 9 verses later, something changes. David refocuses on who he is speaking to – Almighty God – declaring that his “steadfast love is good” (verse 21). And then David acknowledges his own situation, “I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me” (verse 22). See the verses below:

21But you, O GOD my Lord,
deal on my behalf for your name’s sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!
22For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is stricken within me.

I believe we can find insight here. Is the answer to anger found in acknowledging our own sin and need for God’s rescuing? I believe so.

But of course, similar to our other emotions, it’s that simple, and in some ways, it’s not that simple. What do I mean? Well, the answer can be that simple but actually working through the anger isn’t always that simple.

For some of us, the hurt is so deep, and the anger so strong, that we will need to express it over and over again to finally let it go. The expression could be crying out to God, talking to someone we trust, writing therapeutic letters (a letter we write to the person we’re upset with, but don’t actually give it to the them), attending a support group, processing it in therapy, confronting the person we’re upset with, setting up healthier boundaries (what we say yes and no to for our lives), artistic ventures like painting, acting or writing, and so much more.

Anger is not a “bad” emotion.

But one thing we have to remember is that anger is not a “bad” emotion. When we label emotions as “good” or “bad” it gets in the way of dealing with them. Because our emotions tell us something. As in the case of anger – it tells us something about what’s going on inside of us.

In Psalm 4:4, King David instructs us:

4Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

In other words, take time to reflect upon what is going on in your heart, and why the anger is there. Do not simply react (such as sending a text you can’t take back) to feeling that way.

In the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 25 and 26, the Apostle Paul instructs us:

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.

First, he talks about speaking truthfully, which can, many times, prevent anger from getting rooted in your heart. In other words, deal with the matter at hand – say what you have to say (ideally, speaking the truth in love).

Paul then references Psalm 4:4 at the beginning of verse 26, “in your anger do not sin.” It doesn’t say, ‘if you’re angry, you’re sinning.’ Sometimes we confuse the two and convince ourselves that it’s wrong to be angry, and we live inauthentic lives, never addressing offenses or telling others or ourselves the truth. But you don’t have to live this way.

It’s impossible to cover every scenario in a blog. But know that your story is important. Please reach out if you need to talk or you need help processing how you’re feeling or figuring out what to do next. You’re not alone. I’m here to help.