Thoughts on Helping 6 – The Need for Love (Antique Wisdom)

As we know, it can be exceedingly hard to help people, especially those with emotional and spiritual problems who seemingly obviously could use it. I think these ideas of “Antique Wisdom” from Henry Kingman stand the test of time.

It is only as life goes on and our experience of men widens, that we come to understand how difficult a thing it is, and how costly of effort and sacrifice, to recover a soul that has gone wrong. Multitudes of people never do discover how difficult a thing it is, for the simple reason that they have never tried. They satisfy themselves with all sorts of theories as to how base elements in human nature may be transformed into noble ones, without cost to any one of personal love or painful sacrifice. It is to be done my medical or surgical treatment, or by better education, or shorter work hours, or improved tenements, or suppression of the saloon, or a new economic system, or by one or another of multifarious humanitarian readjustments, which are to accomplish easily and naturally and on a wide scale the moral uplift of the people.

If we have ever seriously tried to reach even a single life, weakened in will and poisoned in spirit by vicious indulgence, embittered and defiant towards all that stands for law and moral restraint, we have had some insight into the almost insurmountable difficulty of brining spiritual renewal to one who refuses it, or recreating the heart of one whose pleasures are rooted in evil affection. Men are always rediscovering the fact…that nothing but love can do this work, and, even then, only at its own personal cost and sacrifice. Money cannot purchase it. Neither the most perfect organization not the most highly paid officials can be depended on to secure it. It goes without saying that there are many forms of social amelioration that are efficient aids, and that we are bound for every reason to support them to the best of our capacity. But in the last analysis the deep needs of the individual soul, the needs which blind and bewilder and ultimately destroy, are only to be relieved by love. And however we may carp at individualism, the last stage of social progress, like its first, will still be dealing with the problem of individual need and individual redemption.

Perhaps most men who have reached middle age have tried their hand once or twice at “reclaiming” some one who only half desired to be reclaimed. We were willing to give a certain amount of time and money and patience in the effort, so long as it did not interfere with our business or the orderly routine of life. But the chances are that we did not succeed, because our patience did not hold out. Possibly we felt that we were being deceived or that the man was not rightly keeping his promises, or that his will was too weak; but in any case our compassion was not strong enough to stand the strain, and we gave up the attempt as unfortunately hopeless. We had no much love to go upon, and we were pathetically unable to pay the price demanded, of an unbounded sympathy and forgiving patience.

– Henry Kingman, The Faith of a Middle-Aged Man

Trying to help someone else? Prepare by increasing your reserves of sympathy, compassion, patience and love. Easy to say, hard to do. But with God all things are possible.

Pete

Being a Good Son – The Purpose of Discipleship

What’s the purpose of discipleship? What is following Jesus all about? Is it about rules for living – do this, don’t do that? How about tasks and accomplishments – achieving good works for God? Or could it be about self-improvement or getting better – becoming a person of high character? No, discipleship involves these things but it’s not about them. So what is it about?

Consider this passage from the Gospel of John:

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.   John 1:10-13 NLT [emphasis mine]

When we believe in Jesus we become children of God. Although God creates all people, we are by nature estranged from him. We’re not born as part of his family, but through trusting Jesus we can be reconciled to God; he becomes our loving heavenly father as we become his newly adopted children.

That sounds pretty good on its face. It should – God is all powerful – God is love – God provides and protects – God is merciful – God is the very definition of good! And if God is for us who can be against us?! This is going to be great! Well yes, that’s true. It is going to be great, but how exactly are we to be good children of God? How should we behave in this new parental relationship?

From our earthly relationships we have some idea of what it is to be a “good son” or “good daughter” to our parents. Most of us would like to have our children be “good children” and to be good children ourselves, but it does take effort.

In this life I haven’t always been the best son, but I’m learning. Unfortunately both of my parents have now passed away. Dad developed a rapidly progressive brain tumor and passed away almost five years ago. His last serious words to me were, “Take care of your mother” (he said it three times) and I promised I would. Mom, widowed and after a year of upheaval and grief, developed incurable gallbladder cancer herself just as she was becoming emotionally well again. She died about a year after the diagnosis.

That was a pretty intense few years for the entire Weiss family, and as the eldest sibling I had a large role in helping my parents through it. A very large investment of time and emotional energy was required.* (And some investment of money too.) I regarded it as my duty to help Mom and Dad, but it was also my pleasure and an honor to do so. I did my best to be a good son to them and did it happily. Honoring and serving them was costly in many ways but very worthwhile.

That’s how I’m thinking about discipleship; it’s not a task list, it’s about being a good son to God. How can I learn from him and become wise? Which of my actions honor him and which do not? How can I spend more time with him? How do I trust him more? Following Jesus is costly but there is nothing more worthwhile.

God loves all of us, and he’s looking for children not slaves. Why not trust Jesus, get a new heavenly Dad, and work on being a good kid?

Let me know if I can help.

Pete

*Let me here acknowledge my wonderful wife, Sharon, who also bore a large burden supporting my parents and me during this time of trial.

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“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

– Jesus, Matthew 13:44-46

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Finding the Safe Space

I’m not a big believer in the concept of “safe spaces,” at least not as it’s being advanced by those (mostly but not exclusively young) people who seem endlessly offended by thoughts, ideas and words which conflict with their thoughts, ideas and visions for the world. On the other hand, full intellectual engagement with the media, social media, friends and associates on the topics of the day is certainly draining. So it’s reasonable to seek to protect oneself, to create one’s own “safe space” for rest, recovery and renewal. That’s what I’m trying to do.

I’ve been withdrawing a bit from the media and social media, skipping newspaper articles and Facebook posts that I would ordinarily read. Too stressful to engage. And really, what’s the point? Does anyone care what I think? What concrete actions would I take in response? Why inflame or depress myself if there is nothing for me to do about things?

At the same time, I feel the need to work on my character and draw closer to God. Wouldn’t it be great to have more peace and equanimity regardless of the actions of others and the stories of the day? Sure it would. And God promises that, but we have to do the work. To that end, I’ll be participating in a new men’s discipleship program on the spiritual disciples (source text here) beginning next week. I’m pretty excited. It’s just what I need! I wonder, did my church leaders create it just for me? Seems like it. Maybe they did. Who knows how God is working in this?

Praise God! Although he’s mysterious, we do know that he is working in all things for the good of those who love him. All things. Each of us will experience at least some very distressing things in our lives. This world can be a cruel place, and no amount of social engineering is going to cure oppression, poverty, sickness and death. Shit happens, and it happens to the weak and the powerful alike. Yet, God is here and he is good.

Hence Jesus. Has not Jesus reconciled us to God and overcome the world? Is not Jesus the safe space? I think he is. Find him. Follow him. And, as always, let me know if I can help.

Stay safe,

Pete

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

– Jesus (John 16:33 NIV)

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…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose…

…If God is for us, who can be against us?…

…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– The Apostle Paul (Romans 8:28;31;38-39 NIV)

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Workplace Wellness Programs and Respect for Our Humanity

file0001229562991Workplace wellness is a big issue these days. Employers large and small are designing wellness programs to (hopefully) produce healthier employees. I wish I could say that it’s because the top leaders love and care for their employees as people, and in some cases that is certainly true, but what’s motivating most is a desire to maintain or increase profitability by decreasing absenteeism and presenteeism, increasing productivity, and lowering the cost of the employee healthcare benefit.

Increasing profit is a worthy goal as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of treating people humanely; that’s worth a little thought as we business leaders design our wellness programs. In my mind there are three main categories of wellness programs which I’ll term: a) the Public Health approach, b) Carrots & Sticks, and c) Inspire & Invite. In practice, employers typically blend these styles into their own unique program. I believe it’s important to understand each of these methods in order to design an integrated and human-honoring plan.

Public Health

The Public Health approach involves making changes to the physical environment or culture (emotional and behavioral environment) that affect all employees. These broad programs or policies can be either positive (or additions) or negative (or removals). An example might be eliminating candy machines and fried or high-calorie food from the cafeteria. Many firms also have instituted non-smoking campuses. Creating a positive and vibrant “culture of health” is a goal for some employers. In my view these examples are reasonable approaches that can positively shape employee behavior at least while they’re at work.

The counter argument is that such policies suppress or reduce “choices” and that choice is a good thing. This is a valid argument, but we know that people are not always able to make good choices. The Christian worldview suggests that human beings find it nearly impossible to make good choices most of the time; our national problem with lifestyle illness supports that view. Yes, people do need to be protected from themselves (at least a little bit), and it’s not wrong to be somewhat paternalistic in our designing our wellness programs if it comes from our love of and respect for people.

Naturally one can go too far in this direction and restrict liberty in the name of wellness. Banning all possession of candy or fast food on the campus might be an example.   “Food police” are not humane. Similarly a policy of not hiring smokers or creation of a workplace culture where athletics or fitness is glorified and unfit or overweight individuals are shamed does not reflect love and concern for people.

Carrots & Sticks

In a Carrots & Sticks model the employer provides incentives or penalties for certain health behaviors or outcomes. You’ve probably seen many of these. An insurance surcharge for employees who smoke; payments or deductible reductions for employees hitting body mass index targets or completing a health risk assessment are examples. In my view these are also reasonable steps as long as they are accompanied practical tools and help (say health coaching) to enable employees to change, that is, to get the carrot and avoid the stick.

As with the Public Health approach, Carrots & Sticks can be taken too far. Employers may design many-step or many-outcome plans integrated with their insurance benefit and triggering various copayment reductions and other benefit enhancements or penalties. These may continue to increase in complexity or materially change from year to year. Beyond a certain point, I think programs of this type can become attempts to micromanage employees’ lives. Micromanagement does not honor our nature as individual agents. People hate it at work, how much more do they hate it when it involves their personal lives?

Used sparingly, Carrots & Sticks can be good as a stimulus for people to try something new. Sometimes people could use a little help getting ”unstuck” from bad habits. Perhaps that one-time incentive to run a 5K turns a couple of participants into dedicated runners afterwards, or that mandatory health and wellness class gives an individual a nudge towards healthy eating that grows over time. In my case, it was only after joining the Navy (which uses a very big stick approach) that I began to run and found that I actually enjoyed running.

Inspire & Invite

This is pretty simple; people need inspiration, and are inspired by the stories of others and visions for themselves. Business leaders get this as it relates to their business; they create a compelling company vision, and they tell inspirational stories of customer service, overcoming operational challenges, or other business success. They’re trying to inspire and invite employees to contribute to achieving the corporate vision.

How about doing the same for them as individuals? Help them see that they can be well. Find employees to share stories of personal health problems and success in overcoming them. Invite employees to tackle their own health challenges and provide the resources to do so. That’s Inspire & Invite. Personally, and even though at any given time most employees may not be ready to change, this is my favorite approach because it’s about connecting with others on a deep emotional, and even spiritual, level.

Can you take Inspire & Invite too far? Maybe. If it becomes overbearing and creates a culture where people feel hassled, that’s too far. But I haven’t seen that yet. My perception is that employers tend to overdo the Public Health approach and Carrots & Sticks while limiting Inspire & Invite which seems by comparison too “soft” and perhaps less measurable.  Yet it’s exactly this “softness” that people require to truly change on the inside.

Let’s remember what it means to be human while we develop workplace wellness programs for the other humans that we call our employees.

A Primary Care Therapeutic Alliance? Love in the Doctor-Patient Relationship

file1141234819793Recently I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Marc Braman, a national leader in “lifestyle medicine.” Marc’s an integrative, out-of-the-box thinker. He’s dedicated to serving his patients well and has decades of experience in helping patients to change for the better. Naturally, I asked him to tell me how he goes about it. So how do you help people give up bad habits and adopt new health behaviors? Marc, what’s your secret to that?

Of course, there is no secret knowledge, but Marc replied that it was critically important to form a strong and committed relationship with the patient. He likened it to the “therapeutic alliance” concept used in psychotherapy. Marc tells his patients plainly that he won’t judge or condemn them for their habits (say smoking) and won’t harangue or badger them to change. From the first appointment, he seeks to create a relationship of mutual trust and commitment where it’s safe for patients to be honest with him, and he can, over time, help them make positive changes.

We went on to share more of our ideas and experiences, but this particular idea of a “primary care therapeutic alliance” struck a chord with me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. My first thoughts went to Dr. Scott Peck’s description of the therapeutic alliance in his best-selling book The Road Less Traveled. He had this to say:

Genuine love, on the other hand, implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. When we are concerned for someone’s spiritual growth, we know that a lack of commitment is likely to be harmful and that commitment to that person is probably necessary for us to manifest our concern effectively. It is for this reason that commitment is the cornerstone of the psychotherapeutic relationship. It is almost impossible for a patient to experience significant personality growth without a “therapeutic alliance” with the therapist. In other words, before the patient can risk major change he or she must feel the strength and security that come from believing that the therapist is the patient’s constant and stable ally. For this alliance to occur the therapist must demonstrate to the patient, usually over a considerable length of time, the consistent and steadfast caring that can arise only from a capacity for commitment. [emphasis mine]

I believe Dr. Braman has identified a very significant issue. How committed and non-judgmental is the average doctor with respect to the average patient these days? It seems to me, that if we’re not careful to guard against it, we’re pretty likely to find ourselves blaming and shaming the patient. What does the term “noncompliant” imply about the patient and the nature of the doctor-patient relationship? Should we ever dismiss patients for “noncompliance” or missing appointments?

Beyond the attitudes and behavior of the individual physician or other healthcare provider, how is the system working to foster such therapeutic alliances? Not very well. An individual’s insurance coverage often changes from year to year, necessitating a change in their doctors. Or the insurance company drops a physician from their panel. Or, in reverse, the physician drops the insurer. Or the doctor joins a new practice across town. Provider networks are not stable these days.

Clinic practice methods are not stable either. Financial pressures in healthcare are forcing a trend for providers to operate at “the top of their licenses.” This means, doctors only do what only a doctor can do. Let someone of lesser training and scope of licensure do the other things. Sounds nice in concept, but it certainly doesn’t make for strong doctor-patient relationships. Taken to its logical extreme, why ask doctors to talk with patients about their lifestyles at all? Let the health coach do it. It doesn’t take a medical license to help someone change his or her lifestyle.

So what do we do? I don’t know. Some of the structural shifts in healthcare (like “top of license”) that interfere with relationships aren’t going away. I do think that provider networks will become much more stable over time. Maybe the design of the system will not allow for the typical patient to have a therapeutic alliance with his or her doctor. But patients need a therapeutic alliance with someone! The patient needs a constant, stable, loving ally from within the healthcare system. It may not have to be the doctor, but if not the doctor, then who? Could it be a health coach, ARNP or social worker? Possibly. I think it depends on the individual person as much as the degree or training.

As a healthcare leader, I’m asking myself some questions – How do we design therapeutic relationships into our healthcare system? Where will healing happen in the future system we’re building? How do we love our patients like Jesus loves us? If you’ve got ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Helping Friends When Life Sucks – Empathize, Don’t Minimize

file0001465805005Recently I suggested that one helpful response to life’s difficult situations is gaining a larger perspective. When problems come, asking yourself, “How important is this in the grand scheme of life?” can be very helpful. Recognizing that your life, and its meaning and value, is much bigger than your circumstances is liberating. Problems come and problems go, but God remains and you remain. Remembering that, and being grateful for your blessings, goes a long way. You can worry less and enjoy life even in the face of difficulty.

This is good news, but there are some issues in its application. Personally, I know this idea of reframing works from my own experience. I’ve proven it to myself over and over, yet I still often resist doing it. Perhaps I am unwilling to surrender the outcome of the particular issue to God. I want what I want; it must come out my way; I “can’t bear” anything different. Or maybe I want to continue to be the victim of circumstances or others’ ill intent, feeling aggrieved at the “injustice” of it all. Either way, I may choose to stay stuck in woe-is-me-ism. Usually, my close friends can help me snap out of it.

Which brings me to the point of this post. If you’re like me, you want to help your friends and loved ones through their troubles. But regardless of the truth of the matter, despite your familiarity with the concepts, and even with great love – you cannot just tell someone else that his problem is small, and that he should think bigger, be more grateful or just “snap out of it.” People’s big problems are their big problems and the first thing to do is understand that they are big to them.

A medical joke goes,
Q: “What is minor surgery?”
A: “Minor surgery is surgery on you.”
And, going unsaid is, any operation on me is major surgery. There’s a lot of truth in that joke. Not about surgery, but about our attitudes towards ourselves and others. Realize that, and try not to adopt that perspective with those close to you. Empathize, don’t minimize.

Only after empathizing, really feeling the gravity of the situation, can you decide how to help your friends. Maybe you should help them reevaluate their perspective, maybe not. It depends. Their pain may be overwhelming, their loss very great. Healing and acquiring new views of the matter will take time. You may see the eventual good outcome, but they’re not going to get there right now. You might not be the right person to help guide them anyway. Perhaps it’s a time to just be with them. You don’t have to have their answers. In humility, let the Holy Spirit guide your response.

Honestly. I’m still learning this myself. I have a heart to help, and most individuals trying to be well do need new perspectives, to think differently, and to take hard actions. But I also have too much of a tendency to jump right in and tell others what they should think, how they should feel, and what they should do. If I do that in this blog, be patient with me. I’m a work in progress, as are we all.

Saving One Another in the Here and Now

IMG_2058“Your mom saved me!” That’s what the man told me at Mom’s recent memorial service. He didn’t explain. He just added that she was a wonderful person and that he was sorry for my loss and then drifted away into the crowd. It was a little startling, as I hadn’t really seen my mother as someone who was out there “saving” people. However, over the next hour I heard a few similar statements, all of which included the word “saved.” For example, “Your mother saved our marriage,” “Your mom saved our family,” and the like. I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

My mother was a Christian counselor, a field she entered in mid-life after years as a full-time mom. I think we all recognize that counselors, therapists and psychologists help many people, but how often do we identify that with “saving” them? Usually, at least in the medical field, I think the idea of saving people is more associated with cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, ER doctors, cancer specialists and others who provide dramatic physical or technical interventions at the time of a health crisis. But our emotional crises are just as real and just as important.

Everyone has difficulty with painful or problematic emotions, and our inner emotional lives often involve true suffering. Although you may not agree, I imagine that the majority of all human suffering might be emotional rather than physical. In any event, emotional struggles are common, and our emotions drive our behavior, for better or for worse. We would need a lot less physical saving in healthcare if we had more emotional and spiritual saving going on. Counselors do save people as the mourners reminded me that day.

The service was held at the church where Mom practiced for many years, and a group of Mom’s friends helped me with the logistics. It was the same group that had assisted her with Dad’s service two years before. They jokingly call themselves “the church ladies” (referencing the SNL sketches of Dana Carvey). These longtime friends had been a great joy to Mom over the years and had been invaluable in helping her work through her own emotions, especially her grief at the loss of Dad. Even counselors need counseling.

Talking with one of them, I asked how she came to be Mom’s friend. “I was her client. We all [the church ladies] were her clients” was the reply, and I was startled again. It seemed to me to be a very unusual situation – a group of counseling clients had become close friends with their counselor and each other, and they were open about having had (and come together as a group through) counseling. My thoughts at the time were, Hmm… Interesting… What about professional boundaries? What about confidentiality? but also, How wonderful is that! Sounds like the Holy Spirit at work!

I’ve been thinking about this ever since too. The more I think about it, the more I like it! I’m not sure if this kind of situation is happening in other churches, but I’m taking it as a model of how we are to help one another in love. Certainly boundaries are important, but your therapist should be a lot like a friend (see this article), and your true friends in Christ should be helping you to confront and work through painful realities in addition to providing encouragement and support.

We are called to be “saving” one another in daily life. Our churches should be communities where we are living out this calling. My own church is looking at how to help its members care for one another in practical ways, and I’m excited to get involved in that, to help and be helped.

Who is saving you? Who are you saving?

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Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Gal 6:1-3  NLT