Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mind Clutter

I came across this passage in “Here and Now” by Henri Nouwen (yes, I am temporarily addicted to Nouwen).

“Whether we ask for it or not… we simply cannot go far without being engulfed by words and images forcibly intruding themselves into our minds. But do we really want our mind to become the garbage can of the world? Do we want our mind to be filled with things that confuse us, excite us, depress us, arouse us, repulse us or attract us whether we think it is good for us or not?

That leaves me considering what power I have over those things. Certainly I cannot avoid the world. But I do have a certain amount of control over my world. All my electronic devices have off as well as on buttons. (Some of you are saying to yourself “I never knew that.”)

I have noticed that the unrestrained input of news on a daily basis tends to make me depressed and cynical. It is also quite addictive. I often find myself punching buttons on the car radio out of habit, even when it is turned off! When I reach this stage I know that it is time for a fast from news media and talk radio, etc.

How about the other media in our lives: movies, television, books, music, etc? Do we choose wisely or do we feed ourselves things that are of questionable worth – or that compromises our values? Do we hide some of those things from a spouse or friends? Do we have the willpower to discontinue reading or viewing something when we find it objectionable? Have you ever walked out on a movie for that reason?

Do you intentionally feed your mind good things? I try to always have at least a couple of really good books nearby. I don’t want to make it hard on myself to make positive choices. I am always tempted to snack on junk food for the mind.

Do you have a belief that everything is worth knowing? Or are you afraid off missing out on something important? Does this lead you to collect massive amounts of mind clutter? Once something is stored, it may become difficult or even impossible to discard. Think of violent or pornographic images both visual and written.

Perhaps we need to hit a reset button on some of our acquired habits and rethink what we want to allow into our head and heart.

Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How Smart Are Smart Phones?

Yesterday I was buying a sandwich at a local restaurant and I noticed that the young lady at the counter was drinking one of those energy drinks. I asked her if she liked it. She told me “not really” but I need it to get through the morning. She added “I know it’s not good for me” and explained how she knows she needs more sleep.

The discussion that followed was about having a hard time getting to sleep at night because she is addicted to her computer and smart phone. I asked her if she ever turns the phone off. She hung her head and said “no”. Then she proceeded to tell me about her last weekend on Catalina Island where she couldn’t get a signal. She said at first she panicked and then spent the next few hours agitated. Since she didn’t shut the phone off the battery ran down trying to get a signal and it went dead. She panicked again realizing she didn’t know the time without it, and because she no longer memorized telephone numbers and relied on the smart phone to keep them for her. She said she felt a bit stranded and helpless.

I am wondering if our dependence or even addiction to these new devices poses both a physical and mental health risk. Some clinicians think the answer is a resounding “YES”.

We often define an addiction as anything that we are not able to say “no” to, but rather feel at the mercy of its power to control us.

Does the smart phone meet that criterion in your life? Has it become a ‘new century’ security blanket? Most folks I see walking around Beverly Hills have their phone in their hand, even if they are not looking at it (most are). I often see people in church doing the same thing.  

Are we actually becoming more and more isolated while having the illusion of being connected? People will become irritated if interrupted while texting, eschewing a live connection in favor of a digital one. I wonder how many parents are reluctant to ask their kids to turn off their devices (Xboxes included) and have face-to-face interaction because they are unwilling to turn theirs off as well. Or are the kids so addicted that they become hostile and disrespectful when asked to do so.

These new devices have added real benefits to our lives when we are able to control them. But when we cannot, they become a new form of idolatry and enslavement.

How about a spiritual fast where we leave these things off for a period of time and connect with God instead?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Clear Threat to Marriage

I was watching a couple of videos this morning on how husbands and wives wreck their marriages. Although intended to be generally humorous, it was also sad to me because I have seen all the mistakes played out before me in some form or fashion.

One that struck me particularly is a growing problem connected to social media, texting and the freedom that a cell phone affords. It is easier than ever to develop secret relationships, and often unintentionally become entangled in a downward spiral towards an emotional or physical affair. What may have started in friendship can end up in adultery.You can now have a conversation anywhere, and with chat and text it can be carried out in silence right in front of your spouse. 

And the sadder thing is that often spouses don’t know where or even if they should draw a boundary.

I have had both husbands and wives struggle with their feelings when their spouse seems to be connected to an opposite sex person through some form of social media. Is it even OK to feel concerned or jealous, they ask? Am I being too controlling or possessive?

Here are my questions to determine risk.

  • Will your spouse show all emails and messages to you, and willingly share their passwords, or is there hiding going on? Are there any intimate or sexual innuendos in the messages? Will they ignore you or give preference to answering emails and texts? Do you feel like a lower priority than the person they are communicating with?
  • Do I try to eliminate all my spouse’s relationships outside of our marriage (controlling and too jealous and possessive) or only some opposite sex relationships or perhaps just a particular one?
  • Is there a large quantity of emails or texts, or frequent contact with a person of the opposite sex? Does your spouse text while you are sleeping or get up in the middle of the night to text? (Not OK).
  • Will they refuse to end or limit the exchanges and get mad and blame you and try to make it your problem instead of theirs? Do they try to convince you that it is a business necessity, when in fact it is not and outside business hours?

Really, I could go on and on. If you feel uncomfortable with a spouse’s outside connection, there may be a reason. They need to take you seriously and put your feelings ahead of that other person’s, unless of course you are being totally unreasonable.  

If you are unclear about what is acceptable, I suggest you both read Dave Carder’s book “Close Calls ” together. It is all about protecting your marriage from affairs. If you are still not in agreement, I urge you to seek outside counsel from a pastor or counselor.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Powerful Question

One of the questions I will sometimes ask a new client is this:

“If this counseling process is successful, what will be different in your life/relationship?”

It is a powerful way to help a client define goals so that we might be able to measure progress and success. Most will respond with a variation on one of these two themes:

1. I will be out of pain

2. I will be happy (with myself, my situation or my relationship).

Although these can be good short-term goals for counseling, they should not be the only ones because they often do not speak to deeper issues. Sometimes healing is found in the direction of pain. Sometimes doing the right thing will make us unhappy (at least for a while). Rarely do people answer the question with a response like this:

“I will have increased in my emotional, relational and spiritual maturity.”

Now, to be fair, some do. They tend to be the ones who are headed for deeper levels of integrity in their lives. They understand the toughness of the battle that is before them, and they can also envision the rewards. Make no mistake about it – it is hard to say yes to the right things, and to deny ourselves things that we desire but are counter to our growth.

What is the feeling you get when you think of self-restraint? Do you feel angry or sad or controlled? Do you feel exited about the challenge? Do you feel good about yourself because you are doing well at managing your temptations?

If I were to be completely honest I would have to admit that I rarely feel good about restraint in the moment. It is mostly in reflection that I appreciate my self-controlled responses and understand the value of unspoken words or actions.  

Regardless of how you feel, who you are is God’s Beloved Child – and deeply accepting that reality should be your highest goal. It may not eliminate your pain, but it will give you a reason to be joyful.

One good book that I recommend is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. His basic premise is that it is impossible to mature spiritually while remaining emotionally immature.

Just something to think about.