Temptation (3 of 3)

by Chad Barron, LMFT


This may seem like a weird way to start a blog about mental health and spirituality, but do you remember that scene in Home Alone? The one where Kevin finally talks to the scary neighbor guy? While the movie is more well known for its cartoon violence and punchy one-liners, it’s the very human theme of finding love and belonging on the other side of conflict and disconnection that makes the film an enduring holiday classic (and the John Williams soundtrack doesn’t hurt).

Anyway, in case you missed it, or don’t remember, all that matters for our discussion today is that our protagonist, 8 year-old Kevin McCallister, is sitting in a church missing the family he believes he made magically disappear through a particularly spiteful Christmas wish. As he listens to the church choir rehearse, his “scary” neighbor “Old Man Marley” comes over and sits next to him. Kevin discovers this man is not scary at all, but is actually quite kind. Further, Marley connects Kevin’s plight to his own story, sharing that he has not spoken to his son since they had a fight years ago. Then the following dialogue ensues:

Kevin: “If you miss him, then why don’t you call him?”

Marley: “I’m afraid if I call him he won’t talk to me.”

Kevin: “How do you know?”

Marley: “I don’t know. I’m just afraid that he won’t.”*

How do you know? A wise question from an 8 year-old. But Marley is wise enough–and brave enough–to admit he doesn’t actually know. He is simply uncertain of the outcome and this makes him afraid. 

So afraid, in fact, that he does nothing. For years.

Hold that thought. Let’s get back to the story that started this 3 part series:

“The devil led him [Jesus] to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you

to guard you carefully;

they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:9-13 New International Version)

To review, Jesus is fresh out of the waters of baptism, after which the sky opened up and a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22 NIV) Satan just tempted Jesus to put his comfort above his mission by turning stone to bread, and then offered him control in the form of power over all the earthly kingdoms in exchange for worshiping him. In both cases, Jesus shuts him down with scripture. Here Satan brings back the tactic of casting doubt on Jesus’ identity– “If you really are the Son of God.” How do you know, Jesus? Can you really believe every voice you hear speaking through a hole ripped in the sky? Can you be sure? Are you certain?

The devil offers something to Jesus that perhaps the voice couldn’t: the comfort of certainty. All Jesus has to do is jump off a very tall building and when angels save him from imminent doom (as is promised in scripture) he can finally be SURE he is the Son of God. It would seem the Devil is challenging Jesus to take a leap of faith. But herein lies the trap. This leap would not be in faith at all.

Hebrews 11:1 provides a definition of the word faith: The NASB version translates it quite nicely: “Now faith is the certainty of things hoped for, a proof of things not seen.” (emphasis added)

The Devil offered Jesus a way to obtain PROOF that He is in fact, the Son of God.

But Jesus had his proof. His faith was proof enough. A leap would not have been an act of faith. A leap would have been a desperate grab for certainty. Which, by definition, is no faith at all.

You see, unless you happen to be all-knowing, certainty is impossible. When we say we are certain, what we are usually saying is “I feel certain enough to act as if the outcome I’m predicting is certain.”

Jesus, being God and all, had access to this omniscience, but chose to submit himself to the limitations of a fleshly existence to be able to empathize with our weaknesses (see the book of Hebrews and/or part 1 of this series). To pursue absolute certainty would jeopardize His mission. Sure, jumping off a building hoping angels will catch you takes a great deal of faith, but going through life as a human being, subjecting yourself to earthly authorities, and submitting to death on a cross is an act of faith on a whole other level. In order to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, His faith would have to sustain Him. Knowing with certainty is not part of the plan. So Jesus declines, and chooses to rely on faith alone.

Faith that needs certainty is not faith at all. Refusing to act without the assurance of certainty is called “fear.” 

At the same time, faith is not the absence of fear or doubt. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin. Faith courageously moves forward despite fear. 

We are all Old Man Marely. We all–at times–allow our uncertainty to freeze us into inaction because we fear failure, or rejection, or loss. 

And there’s no short-cuts. No guarantees. This is the true leap of faith. To live out our lives resting in God’s promises–not our own certainty. To move forward despite the risks. To set aside our own comfort and sit with someone in their grief. To surrender our need for control and allow the Spirit to lead. To love when doing so might come at great cost. 

So reach out. Forgive. Seek forgiveness. Reconnect.

Will it work?

I don’t know! But consider Paul’s words to Timothy:

“God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 New Century Version)

Or, as another wise teacher once told me,

Go out on a limb, because that’s where the fruit is!

*Home Alone, Directed by Chris Columbus, written and produced by John Hughes, starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, and Catherine O’ Hara. Hughes Entertainment and 20th Century Fox, 1990.


Chad Barron, LMFT

Grief’s Journey

by Lori Heagney, MS, LCMHC


The river flows without being forced to do so. It goes where it pleases. It carries with it new life. The grief journey is like this. It moves forward at it’s own pace. It’s sometimes heavy and overflowing with tears, at times it rages with strong emotions and memories, but it keeps flowing unless it is dammed up – unless you cut off or suppress the emotions that feed it. 

I have learned in my own grief journey that I need to not fight the river. When I allow the current to lead me by not avoiding memories that are painful or sweet, but rather allowing the strong emotions (even anger) to run their course, the Lord takes me where He wants me to go; where His living waters heal my soul, where new life begins.

Trusting God’s sovereignty, that He will use the best and worst of things and situations that happen to us for His perfect purpose for our life, is the only way through the watercourse of life. Turning upstream and fighting the inevitable current of events and emotions, or damming them up through numbness or denial will only hurt yourself. God has a better plan.

So, dear one, I challenge you to embrace where you are right now. Recognize that no matter how painful your loss may be, it is better not to fight against the strong emotions, but allow God to take your hand while you traverse these deep waters. If you have become stuck or feel like you are downing, reach out to a friend, or give us a call. We are here to help. Sometimes the trip down the river is better with a companion to keep you company and help you along the way.

God’s word says, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown” (Isaiah 43:2, New Living Translation). He is faithful and true and will bring you through this season of grief. Let yourself float – He’s got you. 

*Therapist note: My husband died 4 years ago this month, after a 4-year long battle with aplastic anemia. This journey of healing has strengthened and prepared me to help others forge through the deep waters of grief like no other trial in my life. Although the loss of my husband broke my heart, God continues to mend it back together as I trust Him. I have learned to stop trying to control the process and go along with His healing flow. I now see and embrace how He is using this tragedy for my good and His purpose for my life; to help those He privileges me to come alongside and help in their grief journey. 


Lori Heagney, MS, LCMHC

The Way to Thrive

by Patty Williams, Certified Life Coach


Do you ever have thoughts such as “how am I going to get through this”, “my world is spiraling and I don’t know what to do” or “are things ever going to become normal again?”. If so, you are not alone.  The good news is that you can thrive during even the most difficult of times.  Yes THRIVE… not just survive.  Webster Dictionary states the definition of thrive as (1) To grow vigorously: flourish.  (2) to prosper (3) to progress toward a goal despite or because of circumstances.  I want to thrive, to flourish, to prosper, how about you?  Where do we start?

Let’s start with our thought life.  Is there a pattern of negative or fearful thoughts in your daily life?  Do you sometimes feel as though you are on a roller coaster, gliding up with joy only to plummet down with anxiety?  I have been there!   Years ago, I struggled with the roller coaster thought life.  I loved the Lord, knew Him as my Savior but still grew weary with my inconsistent way of thinking.  I remember the encounter with the Lord as clear as if it were yesterday.  February 13, 2001, I went to bed very discouraged because of the “roller coaster ride” in my mind.  Not only for that day but it had become a pattern of thinking for me.   I cried out in desperation to God that night.  He answered my prayer!  That very night I physically and spiritually felt His touch and can tell you I have never been the same.  

Psalm 34 has become one of my most treasured scriptures.  Please take time to read and study this beautiful portion of God’s word.  It will be gourmet dining to your soul.  

Here are a few things I would like to share that has helped me grow throughout the years. Those thoughts you may struggle with, snatch them.  Quickly.  Don’t allow them to take root.  2 Corinthians 10:4-5 “..for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (New American Standard Bible)  The weapons we are to battle with are not the weapons valued by the world, such as pride, arrogance and self-sufficiency.  Our battle weapons take aim at the things that attack our mind and thought pattern.  Grab that thought, put it up against the light of the Word of God and let the truth reign in your mind and heart.  Choose to believe God and settle there.

Have sweet confidence and fierce faith.  There will always be issues of people questioning, doubting or even greatly disagreeing with our faith in Christ.  There will also be times of testing our faith by our own circumstances.  In James 1:3, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he tells us that the testing of our faith produces “endurance” (NASB), “steadfastness” (English Standard Version), “patience” (King James Version), and “perseverance” (New International Version).  Remember the definition of thrive/flourish from the first paragraph?  Glance back up and reread that definition. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, if we have all knowledge, can quote the Bible, give the answers, provide for the needy and even have great faith, if we don’t have love it is useless and has done nothing good for the kingdom.  Sweet confidence and faith that is fierce is the unwavering, rock solid, life changing conviction of believing and being a disciple of Christ, the One and Only Way, with an attitude of love.  It can stand face to face with opposition without the name calling, finger pointing or ugly Facebook posts.

We can thrive!  We can flourish!  We can take every thought captive and grow in Christ no matter what the circumstances are around us.  We are called, equipped and blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!


Patty Williams, Certified Life Coach

Temptation (2 of 3)

by Chad Barron, LMFT


Previously we discussed how we’re all after something, and sometimes in the pursuit of that something we can be sidetracked by temptations. We began looking at Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness and discussed how the devil tempted him with comfort in the form of bread. 

The second temptation of Jesus is a little less subtle. 

“The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7 New International Version)

Power. Power represents a lot of things, but chief most among them is the ability to be in control. Jesus was gearing up for a ministry that would eventually end in his death at the hands of his own people. Specifically, the people who held all the socio-political power in his culture. The people in control. Well wouldn’t it make it so much easier to do all that healing and feeding if he called the shots? All the shots?

In the therapy room, and maybe even more so in recovery, control is a constant theme. As human beings, we constantly seek control. Control over our emotions, our thoughts, our FAMILY, our lives in general. And a big step toward healing is often identifying those things we can and–more importantly–cannot control. The Serenity Prayer is ubiquitous in recovery circles and for good reason. It goes like this: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

We often chase after peace and serenity. We think we’ll find it on a beach or a mountain top. Or when we finish that project, or get that promotion. Maybe if we could just get our minds off that set back, that disappointment, that loss, that heartache, that traumatic experience. Maybe if we could just control this outcome, that election, that person, things would finally settle down and we could have some peace. But Jesus shows us here that peace is not on the other side of a pursuit or striving. Peace does not come when we chase it, peace comes when we let go. Peace that transcends all understanding is not on the other side of victory through overpowering and controlling our environment. Peace is on the other side of surrender.

Jesus answered, “It is written in the Scriptures: ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” (Luke 4:8 NIV)

“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.” (John 16:33 NIV)

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14 NIV)

That something you’re after. You already have it. It’s already been given. Be still. Let go.


Chad Barron, LMFT

Temptation (1 of 3)

by Chad Barron, LMFT


We’re all after something, and often in that pursuit of whatever-it-is we find ourselves, depressed that we have not found it, anxious that we never will, and struggling to hold on to hope that it could ever be different. 

There are many ways of understanding what “whatever-it-is” is. Purpose. Meaning. Belonging. Peace. Maybe a little bit of all of these and more. Sometimes we even spend our whole lives pursuing something, finally get it, and find that it wasn’t at all what we thought it would be. Red herrings and wild goose chases abound and we begin to wonder, “what’s the point of it all?” How can we be sure we are pursuing something that is actually worthwhile? 

The temptation of Christ is found in all 3 of the Synoptic Gospels. In Luke, it is in chapter 4. Jesus has just been baptized and is led by the Holy Spirit into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. I don’t know about you, but for me as a youngster, it was easy to miss the significance of this event. Jesus is God after all, how hard could it have been? I overemphasized Jesus’ divine nature and discounted his human nature. Word become flesh. Fully God and fully man. A living, breathing, paradox of sorts. Volumes of books have explored this mystery, but for today, it’s worth emphasizing that this was not a camping trip for Jesus. Over and above the discomfort of being in the wilderness without food or water, Satan makes a direct attack on Jesus’ human nature in some very sinister ways. The same ways he often tempts us today. Here we see played out before us what the author of the book of Hebrews refers to when he writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Heb 4:15, New International Version) And while you may not have ever been tempted to turn a rock into a banana nut muffin, I’m certain you have wondered who you are, and what your purpose is, and–if you happen to have found it–maybe even lost sight of that from time to time. 

That’s exactly what Satan does here, he’s not just poking at Jesus’ hunger. He begins, “If you are the son of God…” (v. 3, emphasis added). Satan is calling into question Jesus’ very identity. Are you really God’s son? Can you really believe that voice at the Jordan? And IF that’s the case, shouldn’t the son of God be deserving of a little…comfort?

What’s wrong with a little comfort? It’s even a food group! Comfort food. Heaven knows I enjoy a hearty helping of comfort food every now and then. Are we not supposed to ever be comfortable? Is the Christ Life to be all desert and no…dessert? 

Maybe comfort isn’t necessarily the villain here. After all, as a counselor/therapist, isn’t that my job? To come alongside those who are suffering and help them find a measure of comfort? Absolutely. What we see here is Satan doing what Satan does best. Taking something good and twisting it just enough to make it dangerous. Comfort is not the problem here, it’s the simple truth that saying “yes” to something is inherently saying “no” to A LOT  of other things. Satan, is serving comfort up on a platter, and asking Jesus to choose it OVER HIS MISSION. 

In John 4, the disciples are stressing out about finding food to eat, and Jesus throws them into a fit of confusion in saying, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about… My food… is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:32, 34, NIV). Jesus thwarts Satan’s trap by reminding himself that to say yes to some temporary comfort would be saying “no” to his mission, to his purpose. He sees the bigger picture, and realizes how costly some temporary comfort could be.

Comfort is not inherently bad. God promises us comfort after all (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). It’s when we chose comfort over and against our purpose that we find ourselves stuck. Stuck in bad habits. Stuck in selfishness. Stuck in gluttony, greed, over-indulgence, addiction, and ultimately, misery. Because a life that seeks comfort for comfort’s sake will find itself always wanting and never filled.

As Christians, our identity as a child of God and the purpose and meaning found there, is what grounds us. It makes distress less distressing. Discomfort more comfortable. Pain more endurable. It teaches us—if we let it—to say “no” when saying “yes” would keep us from our mission. To know the contentment, assurance, and peace that comes from knowing we are living out our purpose, is to have food that this world knows nothing about. Real comfort food. 

“Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33, New Century Version)


Chad Barron, LMFT

Sleep

by Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA


Babies love it. Toddlers fight it. College students belittle it. Working adults covet it. It improves memory, lowers stress, combats disease and increases longevity. S L E E P – we should approach it as if our lives depend on it—because they do. 

Jesus himself, embracing his humanity — body, heart, mind, and will — closed his eyes and went to sleep. And not once or twice, but every day.

Of his thirty-plus years living here on earth, Jesus spent roughly one-third of that time asleep. He not only ate, drank, cried, and celebrated like every other human, but he also became tired, “…wearied as he was from his journey…” (John 4:6, English Standard Version), just as we become tired and weary. 

For many of us today, the most God-honoring act of trust we can do is get some sleep. The problem is that we can’t always control it, and when we can’t sleep it seems to affect everything else. Sleep impacts our physical health, emotional health, immune system, energy levels, decision making and critical thinking skills, motivation, ability to focus, job performance, relationships, and even our spiritual health. 

There are many different reasons why sleep might be difficult. Lack of sleep could be caused by medical disorders such as thyroid or kidney problems. Different lifestyle habits can cause sleep problems including too many caffeinated beverages, drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day, increased amount of screen time, and eating only one meal a day. Both depression and anxiety can effect sleep. Stress and anxiety are actually the most common causes for sleepless nights. In fact, research suggests that there was a 37% increase in the rates of difficulty sleeping due to stress from the COVID pandemic this past year (Carrier & Morin, 2020). 

While we can’t always control the circumstances that affect our sleep, there are some helpful practices that can lead to better sleep. 

1. Use the bed only for sleeping. Oftentimes we lay on our bed and scroll on social media, watch TV, or even work. Doing this, however, trains your body that the bed is not exclusively for sleep. Lying in bed several hours after you wake up has actually been proven to disturb your sleeping routine. Try cutting down time in bed, allowing your body to know your bed is only a place for sleep. 

2. Plan to go to bed and wake up at a regular time. Statistically speaking, you’re likely not in the group of people who can get away with little sleep (looking at you, college students!). The amount of sleep we need is largely due to our genetic makeup or season of life. Being consistent with your sleep schedule helps get your body in a rhythm of going to sleep and waking up. Even when you do go to sleep late, don’t compensate by waking up later than usual. 

3. Write down your worries and thoughts before bed. Those of us who struggle to sleep because of anxiety or depression might benefit from this the most. Journaling your thoughts and worries before you go to bed allows you to get them out of your head and onto the page. Give yourself permission to leave those things in the notebook while you go to sleep. 

4. Find ways to calm your body and mind. Stretching before bed or low intensity yoga actually calms both the body and the mind, allowing it to fall asleep easier at night. Counting from 100 backwards, imagining a place that feels peaceful and calm as you’re in bed, taking slow, deep breaths, or doing check ins on all areas of your body for stress and tension can all be ways to help your body relax. 

References

Carrier, J. Morin, C.M. (2020) The acute effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on insomnia and psychological symptomsSleepMed. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2020.06.005

Hauri, P., Linde, S. (1996). No More Sleepless Nights. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 


Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA

Happy and Hope-filled New Years 2021

by Pam Nettles, LCMHC


As I awake this morning, it is now New Year’s Day 2021. I look out my window and it is dreary and rainy; I don’t see the beautiful colors of the sunrises I’ve seen in the last several weeks. I am reminded that I, like many others, wanted to say good riddance to 2020, welcome the new year with a fresh sense of hope, but the turn of the calendar hasn’t automatically changed the circumstances.  While the circumstances might not change, I can change the manner in which I view them.  I can look back on 2020 and remember the scary, unprecedented events of the year; or, I can look for the blessings and/or the growth I’ve made.  

Simply put, I can look at this morning as a dreary, rainy day that has spoiled my plans to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air; or, I can view this morning as a relaxing, quiet morning in which I slept later than usual and woke to the comforting sound of the gentle pitter patter of rain.  I can enjoy the brilliance of the Christmas lights I still have decorating my house (no judgement please, lol).  I can look at the holiday season and wallow in sadness that my entire family made the difficult decision not to be together; or, I can be thankful that my family is healthy and we’ve enjoyed many phone calls, exchanged texts with funny memes and prayer requests, and gathered together via Zoom.


I can look at 2020 and all the problems many have experienced (Covid-19, political and civil unrest, financial and health issues) with despair, fear and anxiety; or, I can view it as a time when I’ve had to wrestle with the fact that ultimately, I am making the choice to rest in God’s promises and blessings; He is good, sovereign and my sole security despite the circumstances.  I am learning to give up my plans, and choosing to be flexible and resilient; to be open to the opportunities God is giving me each day.


So, in 2021, you also can choose to reframe your view of difficult circumstances. As scripture says,  “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, New International Version)


Maybe the new thing is reaching out to others who are hurting with a card, meal, or even sending an encouraging text and truly committing to pray for them.  Maybe the new thing is praying for our leaders, that God would give them wisdom and discernment, even if you don’t agree with their platforms. Maybe the new thing is choosing to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply, rather than holding on to bitterness and resentment.  Maybe the new thing is identifying a scripture, biblical promise or word that you use to anchor your thoughts and decisions this upcoming year.  Maybe the new thing is allowing God to stir your heart and mind; to be open to growth, change and new possibilities.


In 2021, I pray that  God would soften your heart and mine; we will look for the opportunity for revival rather than despair; that you and I, can be salt and light in a season of darkness for our world.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9, NIV)


“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.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)


“You are the salt of the earth.   But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it give light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)


“People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.  He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:16-19, NIV)


Pam Nettles, LCMHC

Stronghold

by Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC


Stronghold. It sounds like such a complicated word! But, what is a stronghold?

A stronghold is simply anything that has a strong…hold. Anything that hinders us spiritually, emotionally, or relationally. 

A stronghold can be what we perceive to be big or small. It can be a temptation, a disorder, an addiction, or even just a hang-up of sorts. (drug addiction, lust, emotional connection with someone not your spouse, eating disorder, overspending, pride, cutting, compulsive eating, social media addiction, pornography, stealing, lying, unforgiveness, gossip, self-loathing, occult involvement, etc…) Sometimes it begins with an act of rebellion that becomes an unintended pattern. Something that eventually has control of us. Other times, it is something that begins as a coping skill during a tough season of life, and then unintentionally grows to a more significant attachment. A stronghold is generally something we feel we must hide. It is a tool the enemy presents as an enticing substitute for attachment or dependence on God. Sometimes it’s such a familiar part of our lives that we don’t even realize it is a stronghold. The bottom line – no one ever sets out to have a stronghold. 

How do we respond when we recognize a stronghold in our life? Let me guide you through an exercise this might help you get started:

Take a moment to look within. Is there something in your life that stands between you and God? That affects your personal relationships? That impacts the way you see yourself? That causes you shame? That controls you more than you’d like to admit?

  1. Give that stronghold a name. Call it what it is. No sugar coating. No exaggerating. No minimizing. Write down the name you have given your stronghold.
  1. Contemplate what that stronghold has cost you? What has it taken from you? How has it robbed you? How would your life be like without it? How would relationships be different? Your finances? Your emotional stability? Your job? Your parenting? Your health? Your spiritual life? Your family? 

Take a few moments and write out what this stronghold has cost you. Look over your list. What do you feel? 

  1. Execute your authority! Let those negative emotions do their fueling, and then put the enemy in his place. You are an heir with Christ. You have access to the same power that raised Christ from the dead, but the enemy is causing you to be a slave to an unworthy master! Have no more of it! Proclaim God to be your stronghold when you find yourself in the grips of a false stronghold. 

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1 (New International Version)

If you are overcome by a stronghold, don’t give up! Reach out for help, and commit to walking away from the destructive effects of this unintended attachment. 


Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC

Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs are frequently shared in various media outlets, and she is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for more than twenty years as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor and a Board-certified Professional Christian Counselor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse. 

Follow Donna’s author page at https://www.facebook.com/DonnaGibbsResilience/ for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.  

Ghost Fruit

by Lori Heagney, LCMHC


I recently saw the most stunning image while looking online at some nature photos. Hanging from the frozen branch of a tree was a spectacular crystal apple. The farmer called it a “ghost apple.” It had been formed during a polar vortex as freezing rain coated a rotting apple, creating a solid shell of ice. Since the rotting fruit on the inside had a lower freezing point than the outside temperature, it slipped out like applesauce leaving behind a ghostly replica of its former self (see image here: https://images.app.goo.gl/ZHTbVKrnSjVipM8P6).

I thought of this as a perfect metaphor for how we attempt to develop the fruit of the Spirit talked about in the book of Galations. As followers of Christ we undergo the lifelong process of sanctification and the Lord works through the Holy Spirit to produce His “fruit” in our lives. I have found that all too often we forget that this is a cooperative effort. In a rush for it to happen we take matters into our own hands and end up projecting a ghostly image of something that is not truly a product of the Spirit, but rather something we produce ourselves. 

Our fruit can be dazzling and often gain much attention from those around us, just as this image captured the attention of thousands of viewers on the internet. This is dangerous in many ways. Pride can take root when we take credit for our own accomplishments. We can also lead other believers astray by showing them a counterfeit image rather than the true work of the Spirit, and that fruit is never as sweet. 

As stunning as the representation may be, unless it is the real thing it’s important to remember that on the inside there is nothing but an empty shell produced by rotting fruit that slipped away during the ice storms of life. Unless the Holy Spirit produces the fruit, it will not last. 

So how is it possible to produce lasting fruit? Let’s go over a few steps to help us get there.

Fruit not Fruits: Galatians 5:22-23 (New King James Version) tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Note that the noun fruit is not plural, but rather collective. We are not talking about a fruit-salad, but rather a whole group representing a singular entity; traits of the Spirit Himself. It is easy to fall into the trap of favoring one fruit over another; being selective about what fruit we want to possess (kindness) and which ones we don’t (longsuffering). Have you ever found that it is easy to embrace and take credit for the fruit that comes more naturally to your own nature, and perhaps judge others who do not seem to possess that same trait in themselves? God has called us to produce all of His qualities and not just some of them. We can’t pick and choose the ones that suit us and fully represent His character in full.

Connection: Just as it is with apples, in order to produce fruit, we must be connected with our source of sustenance. In John 15:4-5 (NKJV) Jesus said, Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Google defines connection as, “a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.” In order to bear the image of our Lord and Savior, we must stay connected to Him through the Holy Spirit. Just as a cut off branch cannot produce fruit, neither can we if we do not stay connected with our Source. 

Spending intentional time with a person helps us get to know them. We learn about their hopes and dreams and we share our own with them. In doing so it helps develop the relationship and it grows. Often we take on characteristics and develop similar interests with those we hang out with. When we spend time with the Lord through worship, in His word, and by talking with Him in prayer, we accomplish the same. By learning about His characteristics, His heart, and His way of doing things, we develop the fruits of His Spirit in us. 

Abide: According to Google, abide means to “go along with” or “fall in with.” This word speaks of a cooperative process, rather than an instantaneous event. The word of God has the power to transform us, but it takes time. We need to participate and allow time for God’s word to be planted firmly in us, to hear it and then do what it says.  The fruit of the Spirit grows from our cooperative response/reaction to our circumstances and the people He puts on our path. We cannot develop patience by avoiding trying activities/people any more than we can develop love by responding with hatred. As we fully submit ourselves to God and His way of accomplishing His will in our life, good fruit will inevitably be the outcome. 

It is important to remember that growing spiritual fruit takes time, so take a deep breath, give yourself grace and relax into the process. The apple doesn’t tug on the tree to make itself grow; it just stays connected and it happens. A crystal apple may be beautiful, but in the end, it’s just a ghost and we all know that ghosts aren’t real!  : )

*This blog is dedicated to my brave client (you know who you are!) who has embraced this concept, helped me develop this metaphor, and is allowing the Holy Spirit to grow her into the woman He created her to be, day by day! 

References:

https://www.indiatimes.com/trending/wtf/thanks-to-polar-vortex-people-are-now-surrounded-by-transparent-round-ghost-apples-on-trees-362164.html

https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2019/02/ghost-apples/

https://www.google.com


Lori Heagney, LCMHC

Psychological Resilience

by Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC


COVID-19. Riots. Sex trafficking. Racial tensions. Political divisions. These are universal stressors, resulting in an extensive rise in psychological and emotional struggles. Anxiety is as prevalent as the common cold, and substance use has never been at such an incredibly high level. Many are hurting. Schools are closed. Businesses are shut down. Deaths are memorialized in isolation. We are living in an historic time. A time that has invited untold global suffering and anguish. We are crawling wounded, and we have to learn how to get back up and start living again. Resilience is essential!

Several years ago, I began to think very deeply about the development of resilience. At that particular time, I was seeing more trauma and suffering in my clinical practice than ever before. Hour after hour, and day after day, I was introduced to beautiful people who had endured unearned, unwelcomed, and unthinkable trauma. I began to notice that there was a difference between those who suffered and got stuck, and those who moved through their suffering and came back stronger. I had no idea, during that pre-pandemic time, how vital those discoveries would be. Who knew that resilience would be a global need!

It is true that in order to have resilience, you have to have some hardship from which to bounce back. There must be some trial of life. There must be a vulnerability. Pain is an essential ingredient of resilience. Why? Because resilience is not something that you are given. Resilience is earned and developed. Consider Paul’s words, as recorded in Romans 5: 3-5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (New International Version) Also powerful are the words recorded in James 1: 2-4, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Our pain never has to end with suffering, because resilience is God’s creative idea. Resilience is His territory, therefore our hopes of bouncing back following a painful season are entirely dependent on our cooperation with the Author of our resilience!

Consider some of the ingredients that may make a person vulnerable to psychological distress: isolation, desperation, oppression, and uncertainty. Sounds like our recent global experience, doesn’t it? COVID has shut down our businesses and our schools. Interactions have been reliant on technology, absent of face-to-face contact, creating unprecedented isolation. Business closures and lay-offs have been born out of the shut-down of the economy, creating financial desperation. The unpredictability of a novel virus has created a landing place for anxiety, and sometimes crippling fear. Riots in cities, and tensions among races have both exposed, and created, oppression. The dependence on social media for meaningful relationships has invited comparisons triggering insecurities. Additionally, the toxic political climate in the world of social media has many feeling additionally disillusioned and discouraged. Many places of worship have shut down, and the meaningful social and faith supports that have sustained many individuals and families in previous challenges of life have not been readily available. Making matters worse, a rampant false theology of suffering has created a crisis of faith for many. Because we’ve been largely insulated from suffering, and able to live lives of relative comfort, we have forgotten that struggles and trials represent expected seasons of human existence (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Most individuals, of all ages, stages, ethnicities, and socio-economic statuses, are impacted psychologically in some manner by our current season. Most individuals are, at minimum, experiencing heightened angst. Sadly, many feel crushed by the weight of this multi-faceted and oppressive season of life, as evidenced by increased rates of substance use, domestic violence, and suicide. It’s so easy to get stuck when we are in pain. Indeed, resilience is in high demand! 

So how do we bounce back? Let’s have some practical discussion about how to move through this season of suffering and come back stronger. It’s a strategy that we all need! Let’s first be clear: resilience doesn’t require that our circumstances be entirely resolved. As believers, we know that the sufferings of life are normal, and often inescapable. Avoiding pain is not an option, and gratefully it is not a requirement for resilience. But we do want to minimize any unnecessary sufferings, and begin to develop the muscle of resilience, which increases our ability to tolerate, and adapt to, the inevitable uncertainties and discomforts of life. 

There are numerous significant aspects to developing resilience, which I cover in great detail in the book, Becoming Resilient: How to Move Through Suffering and Come Back Stronger. Due to the limitations of this article, I will cover just a few recommendations for developing resilience, and encourage you to reference the book for a more thorough overview regarding this critical topic.

It is foundational to first identify that resilience is fully dependent on our use of coping skills. Each of us use coping skills every day. Whether toxic or healthy, these coping skills in which we historically rely allow us to either numb, or effectively maneuver, the normal physical and psychological challenges and discomforts of life. Our current, and unprecedented, season of life universally demands more coping skills than may be typical of other seasons. Compounding the everyday hardships that many were facing in the months prior, the pandemic has additionally threatened psychological resilience. Many individuals around the world were struggling pre-pandemic through challenging traumas, health issues, family dynamics, work stressors, or financial strains, which were only exacerbated by our global crisis. 

Poor coping skills can delay, or entirely sabotage, our recovery. Any coping skill that immediately numbs psychological discomfort also inevitably arrests development, provides a false sense of resilience, creates an additional layer of unnecessary suffering, and leaves us vulnerable to being stuck. It’s impossible to have psychological resilience in the face of additional, unnecessary suffering.

While the options of unwelcomed coping strategies are endless, so are the varieties of healthy coping strategies. For the sake of this brief article, I will introduce just a few of these preferred strategies, and recommend further exploration in the book for a more complete examination of resilience. 

Let’s start with brain health, the importance of which cannot be overestimated in the face of significant stressors and traumas. The organ most responsible for our neurological functioning, and our psychological resilience, is the brain. Therefore, in our efforts to bounce back from the stressors of this season, we cannot neglect the care of this remarkable organ. We don’t have to look far to find journals, articles or blogs focusing on  the healing power of exercise and healthy nutrition. God created the healthy foods that would provide nutritious fuel for our bodies, and He designed our bodies for movement. Exercise increases the blood flow in the brain, and therefore aids in the development of new neurological pathways. Exercise also triggers the neurotransmitters that are responsible for mental health. In the same manner, a nutritious lifestyle aids in brain health, and involves an increased intake of God-made foods, vs toxic foods that are made in factories and laden with chemicals and preservatives. Foods that increase inflammation in the body also compromise brain health, and therefore hinder psychological resilience. Adequate sleep is another vital ingredient for brain health. Our desire is the development of psychological resilience, so a very basic lifestyle that promotes physical movement, healthy nutrition, sound sleep, and overall brain health, is essential.

Psychological health is additionally dependent on the health of our internal dialogue. I like to refer to self-talk as “the most important conversation no one ever heard”. No other organ of the body is responsible for our psychological resilience, and no other organ is so heavily impacted by the health, or toxicity, of our thoughts. Our internal dialogue constructs the pathways of our brain. Destructive pathways (negative or catastrophic thoughts) keep us stuck in our suffering. Psychological resilience requires conquering destructive pathways and reconstructing new and healthier pathways in the brain; new thought patterns that are based on truth regarding the past, the present, and the future. This conquering of destructive pathways requires a very aggressive approach, and a radical intention to submitting our thoughts to Christ. Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, is evidence of the power of our Creator, and his intention for psychological resilience. Much like a stroke victim can adapt, develop new pathways, and gain back their functioning, so can someone who has been beat down by a pandemic develop new psychological pathways, and bounce forward, with a stronger functioning than ever before.

The most powerful strategy for replacing destructive thoughts requires a repetitive, and meditative focus on an eternal perspective. One of my most cherished examples in scripture, which I love remembering in times of struggle, is found in Acts 7, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55). As far as I know, this is the only mention in scripture of Jesus having the posture of standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was suffering, and Jesus was brought to His feet. Isn’t that a comforting image? In our suffering, we sometimes doubt the care of God. The image of Jesus standing reminds us that He is close. That He cares. That in our pain, we have His full attention. Meditation on scriptural truths like this one gives us hope that our suffering doesn’t end with suffering; that there is an eternal story that is greater than our temporary pain. Recognition of eternal truths is a powerful springboard to psychological resilience. 

If you’ve been through a tough season of pain, I pray that you are encouraged today. You don’t have to remain stuck. You really can bounce back. You can have psychological resilience. Cooperate with God, take care of your brain, and conquer destructive thoughts by relying on His truths. Get ready to stand. It’s time to bounce back!

Donna Gibbs, Becoming Resilient: How to Move Through Suffering and Come Back Stronger (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2017).

Originally Published in November 2020 for the Missional University World Prayer Summit.


Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC

Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs are frequently shared in various media outlets, and she is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for more than twenty years as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor and a Board-certified Professional Christian Counselor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse. 

Follow Donna’s author page at https://www.facebook.com/DonnaGibbsResilience/ for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.