Undivided Attention – What Kids Need Part 2

In our digital, global, information overload world with rapidly changing images and stimuli, we have cultivated a culture where less is more and this has bled over into our relationships and most detrimentally to our relationships with our children. As parents, we often look for ways for us to not give our kids the Attention they are looking for.

It is the little things in life that make the most meaningful impact sometimes. It is the tying of the shoes. It is the folding of the clothes. It is the completing of the homework. It is sweeping or making of the bed together. It is the picking up of the toys. It is the time spent doing the tasks or things that have seemingly no importance at all that make the difference. It is the not-so-helpful hands preparing dinner. The snuggles on the couch before bed. It is xbox, board games, card games, kicking a soccer ball, playing war or the occasional lightsaber battle in the living room. All of these are times when children get the attention from their parents they crave desperately. Attention focused on them and no one else. Attention given to them, showing them their little lives matter to us as parents.

Sometimes it is hurtful yell or scream. Sometimes it is chastising glance and mean words given. Sometimes it is unending berating in the form of a lecture about how the smallest mistake means the child is stupid. Sometimes it is spanking, the slapping and the forcibly being put into the corner or on their bed for timeout. It is the undivided attention of a parent who can no longer ignore the actions of their child and now they have to intervene and give attention to the child because the child has so completely disrupted whatever activity the parent is engaged in.

Either way, the bottom line is attention. Children crave the attention of their parents. The old cliche is so very true, ‘negative attention is better than no attention at all.’

Many kids just want someone to pay attention to them. Someone to give them something. The challenge as parents is for us to not be irritated when our kids need attention from us. Often, if we stop what we are doing for just a few minutes we can give our kids the attention they desire and be able to get back to our tasks. It isn’t hard. It is about giving them the attention and time they need. It usually doesn’t require a lot of time. As parents it is our responsibility to be on the lookout for the attention our kids need from us and then give it to them. Offer them what they desire. Give them the love and attention they crave.

Are we looking for ways we can give our kids the attention the desire or are we viewing every interruption by them as a nuisance to be overcome? I challenge you today and the rest of the week to take the moments your kids ask for… and then some. Don’t be bothered. Don’t be agitated. Don’t get mad. Give your kids what they want from you… you. Your attention. Your time. You.

Are you willing to accept the challenge?

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What if?


What if?

Not every sentence that begins with ‘what if’ ends in regret or guilt, but many of them do. It has been my experience that regret and guilt are luxuries I can’t afford if my goal is to move forward in life. Regret robs us of our ability to move beyond the experience we regret. It prohibits us from looking to the future and moving on to whatever experience is next in our lives. 

I’m not the expert on moving past regret (or an expert on anything… except maybe Jeeps and Star Wars), but I have come to realize regret is not only not heathy, but unhealthy. I have found. These three techniques useful when moving past my own regret:

  1. What could have happened isn’t what happened. This is simple, yet critical. The what ifs are where we are. What happened has happened and wishing for another outcome that hasn’t happened and at this point, can’t happen is wasted time and energy. Accept the reality of where you are right now. Work with it. Figure out how to make the best of the reality you are in. My favorite band, Celldweller, on his second album has a song called ‘The Best It’s Gonna Get‘ and this is the outlook we bed to have. This is it. This is the best it’s gonna get. This is what I have to work with and it makes more sense to make the most out of what I have rather than wishing I had something else. 
  2. It isn’t all bad. So things didn’t go the way I wanted, planned, hoped or maybe I totally screwed the pooch on this one. Ok. What can I learn from this? Where is the upside here? How can I learn from this and make better choices in the future? How can I use this experience to grow and become a better person? Regret keeps me from learning and growing and moving on to something else, potentially better. 
  3. The past doesn’t define my future. This experiences, usually mistakes are not definitive of who I am and who am becoming. I am not defined by my past experiences whether good or bad. What defines me is bigger than any action or non-action I could have or should have made. What defines you is also bigger than what you have done. Find the bigger, more complete definition of who you are and use that to define every aspect of you life. My life is defined, that is to say my identity comes from, by the love of a Savior who was willing to die for me. Are you willing to look to a Savior for you identity?

What are you regretting today that you need to let go of?

What if Star Wars became the paradigm we used to understand life?

What if Star Wars became the paradigm we used to understand life?

So much of life is mirrored in the Star Wars saga. Every major life situation or dilemma is found in the hallowed stories of what is arguably the greatest movie series (greatest story outside the Bible) in all of human history. 

All of the emotions each of us cope with everyday are found in Star Wars: love; hate, fear, betrayal, belonging, connection, depression, anxiety, joy, sadness, excitement, loss, despair and hope. 

We see stories of people being broken, we see redemption, we people use their talents/gifts/powers for good and evil. 

We see fear in the eyes of a little boy taken away from everything he knows to chase a dream. 

We see the hurt in the eyes of a young adult when he realized his friend and mentor has lied to him. 

We see the sting of betrayal by a close friend. 

We see the brokenness in the eyes of a young man who knows he has done terrible things and now he no longer owns himself. 

We see disappointment in the eyes of a father when he couldn’t save his son. 

Star Wars resonates with so many fans because, the story is their story too. They can identify with the feelings our heroes and villains feel. They can see themselves in their shoes. 

Star Wars has become our story. 

Fear is a Liar

Fear-is-a-Liar

Fear is a Liar.

I believe this to be the most appropriate location to begin a conversation on how to limit fear. In order to limit fear in our lives, we have to recognize it for what it is. A Lie. Fear lies to us on a regular basis. Fear attempt to convince us of things that likely will never come true. Fear attempts to thwart our efforts of success by getting us to short-circuit ourselves before we even try something.

I am not an expert in mastering fear. I often feel like the apostle Paul who said, ‘not that i have attained it’ because I have not attained it. Not even close on many subjects. Or any subject for that matter. But I have learned to control fear in my life to some degree. I have learned to overcome it and press on through the darkness and coldness of fear. Here are some things I keep in mind to assist me in pressing on through the fear.

  • Failure is ALWAYS and option – Always. It is ok to fail. There is no need to fear failing because it is inevitable. I will fail. And I will fail again. And again. Failure is an opportunity to learn. Learn both what I did well and what I did poorly in that given scenario. There are times when failing is the only way to learn. It is the process of trial and error leading to a better way to get things done. I have overcome fear by learning that it is ok to fail. It is ok to fall flat on my face. It is to make mistakes. The critical part is learning from the mistakes so as not to make them again.
  • ‘What if’ is worse – In my experience, wondering ‘what if’ is worse than anything, even failing. Looking back across the landscape of my life and realizing I tried nothing for fear that it work out the way I hoped. Second guessing my life and decisions I have made, has consumed more hours of my life than I care to admit. Constantly consumed with ‘what if’ because I was unwilling to try something is significantly worse than trying something and having any outcome. Because at least I tried and now I know.
  • Nothing is gained by doing Nothing – my brother had children’s book as we were growing up, whose title or premise I can’t recall. The only thing I do recall is a mouse who consistently said he can’t do this or that. Finally at the end, another wiser character told him ‘Can’t never could’. This phrase has stuck with me ever since. Because can’t never could. If you never try anything then you will never know your limits and you never gain anything, even if the only gained is self-awareness of what you are capable of.

Fear does not tell the truth. Fear uses lies to limit us and give us a false sense of we who are and what we are capable of. These are some things I keep in mind when facing a situation I fear. They have helped me. Maybe they can help you.

Captivity

ColossiansThis morning I was reading Colossians 2 and verse eight stood out to me. This verse has been highlighted in my Bible for years now. Many years ago, as I spoke with a friend who was leaving his wife this passage came to my attention as my friend used all manner of worldly thinking and ideology to justify and explain to me why he had suddenly lost interest and was no longer in love with his wife. He used philosophy and so-called wisdom based on the elemental principles of the world as his basis for why what he was doing was not only ok to do, but the only right thing to do. I believe was taken captive by a philosophy which was unable to provide any legitimate substance or foundation for rational thinking.

We have to tendency to lean towards philosophies or ways of thinking that allow us to justify our actions. We tend to use our desires and actions to interpret Scriptures, rather than allowing Scripture to interpret how we should live. This is what my friend did. This is why Paul cautions us to not be taken captive by hollow, empty, deceitful philosophy. That sentence was very loaded. Let me try to break it down.

Paul warns us to not be taken captive. In the original Greek language, which Paul would have written this, the idea is to not be robbed. He says, look out, keep watch so that you may not be robbed. Don’t let your clear, rational thinking be taken captive or robbed from you. Do not let your thought processes be hijacked and stolen from you. Use your critical thinking and rational thought skills (which I would argue are inherent, built-in aspects of our existence thanks to being made ‘in the image of God’ who possesses critical thinking and rational thought) to see through the empty philosophy.

Paul says, what has taken us captive is empty or hollow. The word is empty, meaning there is nothing to it. No substance. Hollow. Valueless, no merit, nothing inside. As I glance across my desk I see my coffee mug. It is empty. There is nothing inside it. Right now, that has no value. It has nothing in it. At 0646, the mug might as well be dead to me. The mug has zero value to it, because the value it brings is contingent upon Empty mugwhat fills it. Philosophy, a word we get by through the combining of one of the Greek words for ‘love’ and the Greek word for ‘wisdom’, so the loving of wisdom must have substance to it. The philosophy or the train of thinking about wisdom have be full of something, not hollow or it is useless.

Paul goes on to describe the philosophy which has taken us captive as deceitful. In the original Greek text, the words empty and deceit follow each other. The text literally reads, empty deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world. There is much here, but I want to focus on the deceitful aspect. What makes it deceitful? Its emptiness. The fact that it is hollow and promises what it can not deliver. Just like my coffee mug is deceiving into thinking it has value, when it does not because it is empty. So is the philosophy which has bewitched us. It promises big, but delivers nothing. It is deceit because it has no value or substance to it.

It would be presumptuous for me to speak for you, but I don’t want to be taken captive by anything let alone anything which is empty or hollow. Imagine waking up one day, years from now and realizing you have been chasing a hollow, empty dream. Your whole life, everything you put into that pursuit is wasted, all for nothing. Paul is giving us a wake up call to pay attention to the things we place our trust in and what we rely on. Are we trusting in philosophies which are empty and deceitful because they are empty? Are we placing our trust in something of value, something which is not empty? Clearly, Paul is making a subtle argument for placing one’s faith and trust in God and relying on him to find the values and meaning we need to navigate through life. Trust in God is the only thing in the end providing the lasting meaning we crave. There is no other philosophy or tradition providing meaning and purpose equal to what God provides, because God has no equal.

We need to heed the warning and not allow ourselves to be taken captive by empty, deceitful philosophy. We need to place our faith, hope and trust in God each day. We need to allow the Word of God to light our path and direct our steps. (Bet you didn’t expect a theology lesson this morning!)

What empty, deceitful philosophy do you let creep in and distract you?

Bible is lightsaber

So Much has Changed…

Often in life, each day is just another day. Each day is a day unto itself. But sometimes, the day is more than just a day. It is a defining moment.

This day last year was one of those. It was a defining moment. It is frozen in time. It is a day never to be forgotten. It was probably one the hardest days of my life.

Without sharing too many details or the particulars – one year ago today, my brother was taken into custody after a court hearing and transported to county jail and ultimately to state prison. This is an experience my family has not talked about much outside of the ‘Westfall Family circle of trust.’ Today, I am feeling as though I need to share my thoughts on the last 12 months. I am not going to talk about the details, but I want to talk about the feelings and impact this experience has had on my family from my perspective, my point of view.

February 5, 2015 was one of the hardest days of my life. Watching your brother get taken into custody is hard enough, when you add into the mix having to watch your parents as their son is taken into custody and you have the makings for a tough day. I have found it is one thing to cope with your own emotions and to assist others in coping with their emotions… but when the others is your family, it is significantly more difficult to keep an objective presence. Watching my parents explain to my niece and nephew their father isn’t coming home for a long time… as their little minds attempted to wrap around the concept of another parent who would be missing from their lives. As they tried to make sense of something that makes no sense at all. Watching parents struggle with the exact same thing… finding sense, meaning and purpose in a experience that makes no sense.

It was on this day I learned the futility of saying, sometimes crap happens to good people and we have to accept it. This does nothing to comfort those suffering. Knowing it is unjust doesn’t make it easier to handle. I mistakenly thought those were wise words in a time of crisis because they are true. Scriptures teach the sun shines on the wicked and good all the same. But in times of distress, these words are hollow. Empty. Meaningless. We search for meaning, for understanding and we want things to make sense. And when things don’t make sense, posting out they make no sense, makes no sense.

Over the last year, I have experienced feelings of loss I hadn’t anticipated. Some time ago, I wrote the following words trying to understand my feelings:

  • This feels strange to write this…I find myself mourning my brother. No, he’s not dead. But he is in prison. While the story is complex and convoluted at best, I want to muse more on how this whole story causes me to feel.

    I find myself mourning him. He’s gone, while not being gone at the same time. It causes an odd void in my heart and life.

    On any given day, I communicate with Ronda more than I do any other human being… makes sense, cuz she’s my wife.

    Next in line on this list was my brother. I didn’t realize how often. I called, texted, emailed, facebook messaged, sent him a YouTube video or otherwise reached out to communicate with him. Countless times over the last two plus months I have found myself wanting to reach out to him about something, nothing or anything in between. I actually called his his iPhone last week! Haha. Habit.

    Given the amount I typically communicated with him, there is now a void in my daily communicative expression. This evokes a feeling similar to mourning in my heart because I am unable to communicate with him when and how I want to.

    I don’t know what I expected the feelings to be like…

    At least we can speak on the phone once a day. We could write letters, but that’s not a fun as it might sound. We can visit, but things have been some crazy at work I haven’t had the time to plan a trip to Georgia.

    I know this is only temporary and after this season has passed life will return to normal. But in the meantime, I miss him.

I feel a great sense that can only be described as loss. There is a hole in my life which can only be filled by my brother. A large, special piece of my everyday has been taken away from me. It is missing. This loss has certainly changed our relationship… I don’t know how exactly or what things will be like when we can talk whenever we want, but things have changed.

I know my family has felt the same or similar feelings on loss, too. This has affected us all. We all have felt the pressure, the loss, along with other feelings. We have felt betrayed at times. We have felt lied to. We have felt disappointment. We have felt like we have been left to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. We have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. We have felt guilt. We have felt responsible. We have felt feelings that are real and powerful. We have hurt and we are hurting. I would argue this is normal. This is to be expected. And this is ok. What’s not ok is bottling the feelings up and letting them gnaw at our hearts and allowing those feelings to adjust or change the love we have for a brother/son who himself is hurting. Maybe more than us. Likely, more than us.

This may be a simplistic approach to the dilemma, but I believe guilt or innocence to be irrelevant. Maybe not irrelevant, but holding no bearing on the reality of my feelings about him or about this situation. I love my brother. I will always love my brother, no matter what. But loving my brother doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have feelings like the ones above. It doesn’t mean when I have those feelings I am in the wrong. But it also doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to feel differently about him. What has happened has had a dramatic impact on my family and we are forever changed because of it. And at the resolution of this whole experience, there will be more exploration to finally resolve it. To finally, make sense of it… as much as we can. No doubt, there will be more tears, more frustration, more anger, guilt, remorse, sadness, joy, laughter, more whatever.

I’m not going to pretend I see the silver lining and I know on the other side of this we will be stronger, better, blah blah blah. This sucks, from start to finish. But, this is where we are. This is our life. This is the experience we have. This is the hand we have been dealt and whether God is in it or not, we will endure it. God will use it, certainly. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. Doesn’t make it suck less.

For about 12 months I have wanted to share my thoughts and feelings. I have wanted to express what we are going through. And I haven’t. I don’t know if it is because I was embarrassed. Or if if I didn’t want to hurt feelings. Or if I wasn’t sure we were or I was ready. But the sooner we stop hiding in the shadows, the sooner we can have some resolution about what and how we feel.

I love my family. I love my brother. I will always love them. Nothing will ever change that. This has been hard, but it hasn’t killed us yet. And I don’t think it will. If we continue to stand against this as a family, we will endure.

These are my feelings. These are my thoughts. This is my voice. If you are reading this and you feel like you have suffered and are suffering know you are not alone. Know there are others walking through life carrying heavy burdens. Burdens we daily try to give to Jesus, but hang on to because it is hard to give them up. There’s a band called HELLYEAH. They have a song entitled Hush. It talks about growing up in a family wrought with abuse. While it is not always true, emotional pain (regardless of the source) often easily translates from person to person. What I mean is, when we feel emotional pain we can associate with others feeling emotional pain regardless of whether the source of that pain is the same or not. As the scene is described in the song, a line from the chorus says, ‘if this reminds you of home, you better know you’re not alone.’ This is why I write these words today. I want share my pain to let others know they are not alone. To let others know they don’t have to suffer alone in silence. We can help each other. Today I may be strong enough to hold you up, but next week I might need you to hold me up.

I will hold you, will you hold me?

Razor’s Edge

  
Maybe it’s just me, but I find I live life on a razor’s edge. 

What I mean is this: each day has the propensity to be a good day or a bad day. It all depends on which way I lean. Which way am I going to go. Which direction do I allow my day to be taken. 

If I allow my day to be dictated to me and don’t specifically take steps to make it a good day, it won’t be one. It’ll be a bad day. This shouldn’t be surprising to us. We live a world marred and broken by sin. We live in a world where selfishness and sel-gain are the order of the day. Our world is broken and leads towards destruction. So it shouldn’t be surprising that our days can easily become bad days full of pain and suffering. 

On the other hand, if I wake up and determine to make this day a good day it is more likely than not thT it will be a good day. I know what you are thinking, some days are always going to be bad due to their circumstances. True, but our perspective incredibly affects our outlook on life. Perception is 9/10 of the law, right? We can’t always make everyday an epic specimen of existence, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Here’s four practices I utilize in my efforts to make everyday a good day:

  1. Remember today is a new day. P.O.D.’s song Alive starts with the words, ‘Everyday is a new day, I’m thankful for every breath I take’. I often find myself reciting these words at the conclusion of a tough day or at the beginning of the day. Everyday is a new day. Today doesn’t have to be like any other day you’ve ever had. 
  2. People depend on me. I’m a dad, husband, boss, mentor, friend and role model. People are looking to me to gain insight on how to handle their lives. People are looking to me to learn something. People are relying on me to be strong and consistent. I am not an island. People need me to be the best I can be today. 
  3. God has blessed me beyond what I could ever deserve. Even in my darkest moments, my life is favored and blessed. As a child of God, I am in dwelt by the Holy Spirit and therefore have found favor with God. He loves me. He watches over me. He is preparing a place for me that is free of pain, suffering and hurt. 
  4. The last practice is somewhat more practical in nature and may qualify as more than one practice, but whatever. I use everything at my disposal to make each day good. Counseling, prayer, reading the bible, wise counsel from friends, self-help articles and books, time with my kids, video games, anything. God has blessed me with a myriad ofresources at my disposal to make my day good, all I have to  do is reach out and use one of them. Surprisingly, God doesn’t want me to be miserable. 

I still have bad days. It happens more than I want. But those are the days when I let life happen to me and not the days when I happen to life. Decide today to be more than conquerors and Almagest today a good day. 

Listening Ears

dog listening

I consider myself a pretty good listener. I try to cultivate a slow tongue and hear what you have to say. I make a conscious effort to allow you to speak, to allow you to communicate your point of view your side. I would like to think I make rational decisions after having weighed all the facts and heard all that needs to be heard.

Granted, I’m not always like this. Ronda will tell you I am an interrupter. And I am… at times. There are moments when I don’t want to listen. When I don’t feel like I need to listen. I honestly don’t believe those times dominate my ears. In my judgment, I listen pretty well.

The other morning, I was having a conversation with a professional who was not a good listener. She interrupted me multiple times and would not stop until I closed my mouth and heard what she was saying. This didn’t stop throughout the entire conversation, even after the second time I said, ‘as I was trying to say’.

This was very frustrating to me. I felt as though this lady would not allow me to get a word in edgewise. Do you ever feel this way? Do you ever feel as though people are some consumed with getting their voice heard, that they don’t hear yours? It almost doesn’t matter what you have to say, because they don’t want to hear it. They are sure what you have to say doesn’t matter. I find it annoying when I encounter people like this.

I have been reading through the book of James a lot lately. At my church, we are going through series of sermons in the book so I have taken this opportunity to study the book as well. This morning I read from James chapter 1, where James encourages us to be ‘quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger’. These are great words of advice for several reasons. I think our interactions with others would be improved if we would make a reasonable attempt to live this out… not just because the Bible says so. Here are three reasons why it is a good idea to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger:

  1. When we don’t listen to others, we dismiss them. Not only do we risk dismissing a potentially good idea from them, but we are dismissing them. Not just their ideas or thoughts, but them as well. When we are dismissive of others, it communicates they don’t matter. We communicate to them they are important, their voice isn’t worth hearing. We communicate t them they have nothing to add or say of value. Nothing that could be important or beneficial to hear. When we are slow to hear, we are dismissive of others and being dismissive doesn’t build relationship it tears it down.
  2. When aren’t slow to speak, we often end up putting our foots in our mouths. We’ve all been there haven’t we? We open our big mouths and say something we think to be informed by the truth, only to find out we don’t have all the information and we were wrong… and we look like fools, idiots really. I always think about the apostle Peter when I think about putting my foot in my mouth. On one occasion, Jesus was telling his disciples he was going to have to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders. When Peter heard this he was, “There’s no way I’m going to let that happen to you! I will take them out! I will introduce them to my little friend!” Jesus responds with the classic, “Get behind me, Satan!” Open Peter’s mouth, insert foot. Peter didn’t fully comprehend what was going on, opened his mouth and Jesus likened him to Satan because to stop the imminent suffer would have been akin to stopping God’s perfect plan. Being slow to speak allows us to gather enough information to speak with wisdom when we do speak.
  3. When are are quick to anger, it has a tendency to be unrighteous anger. Ephesians 4:26 reminds us to not sin in our anger. For me, this is a prescription to not be angry… because I don’t seem to be able to be angry and not sin. I’m a work in progress to be sure. Either way, if we easily anger there’s a pretty good chance we aren’t being angry in a sinless layabout things we should be angry about. Short fuses rarely lead to righteous anger. Again, it is a matter of having enough information to know whether our anger is justified or not, whether it is something ‘worth’ getting angry about. I suppose we need to understand what would qualify as ‘worth’. In my mind, righteous anger is warranted when the issue at hand would also anger God. If it is an injustice or situation where God would be angry, then we can be angry as well. Too many times we et angry quickly, when choosing grace and mercy would have been better choices. If we are slow to anger, consider and think rationally through the feelings of anger we are feeling we will better equipped to be angry at the right time about the right things.

We should be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger… essentially because it promotes the most healthy and best relationships with others. It is the best way to interact with others. I don’t always get it right. I miss the mark, often. James encourages us to slow down and make more of an effort to get it right.

A Future of Freedom

  
What would it be like if you woke up tomorrow and all your problems were gone?

In solution focused therapy, this question is often posed by the therapist to motivate the client to imagine a future without the ailment bringing them in for therapy. This question excites and empowers the client to imagine a future of freedom… freedom from what plagues them… freedom to live unbound by labels… freedom to live without the weight of their troubles upon their shoulders. 

This question is meant to evoke feelings of hope and courage for a future that is different. It seeks to break the cycle of dysfunctional thinking the client is trapped in. It aims to change perspective. 

I dare to say, it is one of the most powerful questions that can be asked in therapy. It has the ability to re-capture the excitement of life. 

The only drawback to this question, is sometimes we aren’t ready for it. We aren’t ready to dream, to hope, to envision a future of freedom. We aren’t ready because we are too happy in our misery. Sure, everyone wants freedom inside their core… but we also revel in the familiar, in what we know, in what is comfortable. Which means, it can be easier to wallow in misery and not hope for a future of freedom. 

This is what keeps us from breaking free from our ‘prisons’… it’s not that our prisons are inescapable, as much as we don’t want to escape. We limit ourselves. 

We don’t have to live this way… we don’t have to live chained to our problems, our issues, our baggage, the things that hang us up. We can be free… free to live lives unchained and unfettered to the junk that brings us down, holds us back and keeps us from moving forward. 

The miracle question allows us to realize this possibility. It allowsus to envision a future of freedom. We must be courageous enough to dream for a future of freedom. More than that, we mis be courageous enough to take the next steps to realize that freedom. 

The first step to overcoming a life chained and fettered by issues, baggage and ailments is to dream the miracle question… dream what life would be like free. The next step is working to make that dream a reality. 

What would it be like if tomorrow you woke up & all your problems were gone?

The Ordeal

strategic therapyOne of my favorite classes in my counseling program was the Brief Strategic Therapy class I took while we lived in Jacksonville. One of the things which made this class so enjoyable for me was the professor. Had I not taken the class at a Jacksonville campus, it would not hold such a high place in my heart. The professor was a straightforward, no BS, cuss like a sailor professor who told you how it was. On the first day of class, she shattered the strongly-held precept of mental health counseling – the client must have insight into the struggle before real, lasting change can be made. The first day of class she comes in and tells us we don’t care if the client understand the why or gains any kind of insight at all… all we want is for their behaviors to change. We don’t care if they understand why they act the way they do or if they understand why they need to change or why the changes work. All we want is for the client to change.

This literally, was a slap in the face to everything I had learned in my program prior to this and it was exactly what I had been screaming in my head as I sat in class. What I didn’t understand at the time, is that you want change first to allow time for the understanding to come. In a brief, strategic scenario you are time-limited and need to change to occur quickly allowing the client time to reflect later. This approach was refreshing and laid some solid groundwork for me as I began to formulate and design my own approach to counseling. Since then, I have become more convinced that real, long, and enduring change can only come when you take time to reflect and understand what the root cause of your anguish is. Having said that, there is also a time and a place for a brief, strategic approach which doesn’t waste precious time assisting the client in gaining insight, but rather forces a quick, necessary change immediately.

This morning, I arrived to work and found one of the youth in our Residential Group Care (RGC) home refusing to go to school. I walked into his room, woke him up and said, “You have two options – 1. Come sit at the conference room table in my office and let me get all the tasks on my list for today done that require me to sit in front of a computer. For this to happen, you don’t have to tell me anything… I don’t care what’s going on, I don’t care why you don’t want to go to school, I will leave you alone to sit at the table and do nothing all day long. 2. Come with me to run some errands, a different set of tasks on list for today. For this to happen, you have to give me something… you have to help me understand what is going on inside your head and heart which explains why you don’t want to go to school. Help me to understand there is something churning inside you and that you just aren’t choosing to be a turd this morning.” He replies, “I’d rather go to school!” And I say, “And there is option 3, get up and get dressed so I can take you to school.” He got up, got dressed and I took him to school.

This is a Directive technique called the Ordeal. The rationale here is to give the client something to do which is harder to fulfill than following through with the symptom you wish to alleviate. I wanted him to go to school, so I gave him options that were less desirable to him (i.e. harder) than going to school. Additionally, I utilized several Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) techniques in the process. First, I empowered him to have a choice… have a voice in the process. He was given the freedom to choose any of the options and I would have been ok with whatever he chose. This also employs the compromise technique. He doesn’t get what he wants, but he can choose from two alternatives and we roll with what he chose. It was a win-win for everyone this morning. He was empowered to choose and we did what he chose and I got him to go to school and didn’t have to have shadow all day long because he refused to attend school.

When working with the youth in our RGC, it isn’t always this easy. There are times when it goes much less smoothly. However, the key ingredient in each interaction which continues to prove successful is authentic engagement. Many times, the youth we work with haven’t been given a choice, they are shown respect, they are lead to believe their voice doesn’t matter and that no one cares for them. But we do. I do. By authentically engaging in the life of this youth, we establish a relationship where we can accomplish much simply because we take the time to engage in their lives in an authentic way which demonstrates that unlike so many others in their lives, we care about them and they matter to us.