Friday, November 11, 2016

Daddy, Don't Give Up On Me!

My daughter was about 14 at the time. She was “in a state”, upset about something, sitting on her bed in her bedroom. I was trying to help her and I was failing miserably. I was getting progressively more frustrated as each of my brilliant and wise suggestions was rebuffed. Finally I had reached my limit. I threw my hands in the air and said, “Fine! I am done!” and walked (or rather stormed) out of her bedroom. As I was walking down the hallway I heard my daughter’s voice call after me, “Daddy, don’t give up on me so easily!”

Those words stopped me in my tracks. I went back into her room, took a deep breath, and said, “You are right. I am not giving up on you. But I am really frustrated because you are not letting any of my help be helpful. I feel like I am doing all of the work, and this is about your life. I am going to go downstairs. I am going to get a drink of water and a snack, calm down, and come back to continue this conversation. But I want you to think about how you can let some of my help be helpful.” She agreed, I got my snack, we resumed the conversation, and with a few false starts and dead ends we were slowly able to make progress and come to some resolution. Another parenting crisis navigated.

Giving up on her was not what I wanted to do, but that is exactly what my words, my actions, and my body language communicated in the moment. It was as if I was saying, “It is my job as your father to fix your problems. You are making my job very difficult and I feel like I am failing as a father. In order to not feel like this, I am pushing you away and emotionally distancing myself from you. I am leaving you to your own resources. You are on your own.”

This is not what I intended to communicate and I am thankful that my daughter called me on it. But so often in our frustration these ”abandoning words” fall out of our mouths and we wound those we love. We say things like, “I am so done with this.” “This is not what I signed up for.” And we are surprised when our loved ones react poorly to our words. From an attachment perspective, a “loss of attachment alarm” goes off in our loved one, saying “Maybe this is the last straw, maybe this is what will finally push him over the edge and he will not want to be involved with me anymore. He will leave me alone in my problems and I will have to solve them on my own.”

At a reflective, conscious level my second response was more accurate. I had no intention of abandoning her or abdicating my responsibility for her as my daughter. In retrospect I can see that at some level I may have been trying to startle her into common sense, but the result could have been disastrous if those words, spoken in the heat of the moment, had been allowed to stand unchallenged.

When the foundational attachment question, “Are you there for me?” is answered with a solid “YES,” the relationship, whether parent/child, husband/wife, or friend/friend, is solid and can withstand a lot of turmoil. If the answer is “NO” (or if the answer leaves room for doubt), the relationship feels fragile and the participants feel threatened and insecure. They often react accordingly.

As we move through the challenges of the fall please allow me to encourage you to:

  1. Be supremely careful, when upset, not to let words fall out of your mouth that threaten attachment security. The thoughts may pop into your brain, but do not let them out. If they do fall out of your mouth, it is essential to ask for them back and repair the attachment breach.
  2. Speak attachment affirming words frequently (“I am here for you.” “We will figure this out together.” “I am not going anywhere.”)
  3. Never, never, never, ever try to “motivate” your loved one by directly threatening the attachment bond through your words (“I will divorce you if…”, “If you don’t straighten up I will put you in a foster home…”, "I'm done trying to relate to you...") or your actions (silent treatment, cutting off relationship). This never makes things better and usually makes things worse because your loved one thinks, “How can I trust you to work this out with me if you already have one foot out of the door?”

The attachment-threatening words and fears may come into your awareness, but battle them. Fight for love and attachment and assume that God is at work in both of you “to will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 13) even when He seems to be taking his own sweet time.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Fire Alarms. 

Cardiac Alarms. 

Burglar Alarms. 

An alarm grabs your attention, and focuses you on a possible threat. It propels you to address a danger: to get out of a burning house, or to let your nurse know you need urgent attention.

Relationships have alarms too, but relationship alarms can be confusing. They do not usually sound like alarms at all, which makes them easy to misinterpret. A relationship alarm may make you think your loved one is upset with you, you might experience an alarm if his/her words sound like an attack. You sense an urgent need to defend yourself. When you defend yourself, however, rather than making things better, things get worse. Even though there is a desire for love and connection, suddenly you are having a fight.

An example: Amber notices that Ethan did not greet or kiss her when he came home from work. She is already feeling emotionally distant from him because she just worked twelve hour shifts, three days in a row. The emotional disconnection sets off a “loss of relationship” alarm in Amber. Amber, in quasi-automatic response to the alarm, complains, “You never take me out anymore.” Ethan feels attacked and defends himself by listing all the times he offered to go out but she said she was too tired. At the end of this interchange, Amber feels un-listened to, blamed, and alone. Ethan feels criticized and hopeless. They both go to sleep hurt, scared, wondering why marriage is so difficult and if it will ever get better.

Not only are relationship alarms easy to misinterpret, but they are often false alarms, or at least mostly false. Since primary attachment relationships are vital to a person’s emotional, social, and even physical well-being, the relationship alarm system is sensitive and is designed to give off false positives. Like a smoke detector in a home, better a false positive from cooking than a false negative when the house is on fire. God has designed us to survive and thrive in close relationships: "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18) . Isolation is not only emotionally painful, it can be physically and psychologically dangerous. The lone human in the jungle is not as safe as in the company of his/her tribe. Infants and children obviously need parents to survive. Adults thrive and even heal faster physically and have lower mortality rates when embedded in a web of caring relationships. We know instinctively that without close relationships we are vulnerable. Attachment relationship problems are a contributing factor in most mental illnesses. We need a sensitive system with built-in redundancies to protect our life-enhancing, and life-giving relationships—hence, false alarms. Better a system that alarms too quickly than not quickly enough.

When Ethan failed to greet Amber, she felt disconnected and thought, "What does this mean for our marriage if he so totally takes me for granted and ignores me?” Amber’s alarm system activated to decrease the emotional distance between her and Ethan. Unfortunately, her fear was reflected in her voice. Rather than sounding like an invitation to reconnect, Ethan heard her attacking his performance as a husband and began defending himself. In turn, Amber felt pushed away, alienated, and began pressing more intensely to emotionally re-engage, which only made Ethan feel desperate (his loss of relationship alarm was now sounding too). In this story, the alarms were mostly false—Ethan was preoccupied and did not notice that Amber was home. Ethan and Amber were indeed somewhat disconnected because of divergent work schedules but it was nothing a bit of face-to-face talking, snuggling, and sleep would not rectify. Their relationship was solid, just slightly neglected.

One of the best indicators that a relationship alarm is a false alarm is that it is turned off with relatively minor expenditures of emotional energy: re-engagement, apology, listening, eye contact, physical touch. But false alarms, if not addressed skillfully, can become true alarms—distance can grow, hurtful things can be said and done, and the relationship can be damaged. If Amber and Ethan interpret their feelings of danger for what they are, a loss of relationship alarm, and turn toward each other to reconnect emotionally, they can use the alarm to strengthen their relationship.

In counseling one of the most effective ways I help “alarming" couples turn off their alarms and reconnect is to coach them to confess their wrongs to each other and ask forgiveness. The New Testament writers repeatedly assert that confessing sin and forgiving each other is central to healthy relationships with God and each other (Mk 11:25; James 5:6). Forgiving each other our grievances is the foundation of relationships characterized by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and unity (Col 3:12-14). Forgiveness keeps the toxic root of bitterness from growing up and poisoning our relationships (Eph 4:31f; Heb 12:15). And it can start with paying attention to “relationship alarms”.

Learn what your loss of relationship alarms "sound" like. Think back over a recent conflict with a loved one. You probably felt alone, misunderstood, neglected, even abandoned, and your best efforts to fix the problem made it worse. What if the primary problem is not that your loved one is uncaring? What if the primary problem is that you are emotionally disconnected and your loss of relationship alarms are sounding? Learn to recognize how you feel when you are out of step with a loved one and find ways to skillfully turn toward each other to reconnect. I think you will find that when you take care of the disconnection problem, the “alarm” indicator will take care of itself.


With a chemical alarm, you're going to build one that is oversensitive because you would rather the alarm go off and give you a false alarm than to err on the other side.~Norman Schwarzkopf

...put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Col 3:14

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dogs & Oxytocin

I love dogs, and dogs typically love me. Maybe it is because I give them so much attention, but they tend to find me very interesting.

In my reading the past few years about attachment and neurology, the hormone oxytocin keeps popping up. This morning, as I was petting my dog, Keeva, I wondered again: do dogs produce oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a hormone/neurotransmitter (technically a nonapeptide) produced in the brain (thalamus area), then transported to the pituitary gland where it is secreted. Originally identified in 1906, oxytocin was found to facilitate childbirth and breastfeeding, however, in the past few years oxytocin’s role in relationships has been studied more intensely.

Oxytocin is variously called the hug hormone, the cuddle chemical, and the moral molecule. In humans, researchers have found that cuddling with a significant other stimulates increased production of oxytocin resulting in higher feelings of closeness, empathy, and trust. Giving subjects a shot of oxytocin in their noses resulted in more generosity with money and more compassion in conflict. Oxytocin has been implicated in mother-child bonding as well as pair bonding in adults. New treatments using oxytocin are being explored for treating the social deficits for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Oxytocin not only seems to result from nurturing and bonding behavior, but alsointensifies feelings of connectedness and bonding. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, oxytocin production also calms the amygdala—the threat detector, the first alarm center of the brain. This explains in part why, when we are scared, the first person we want to talk to is our primary attachment figure. When we receive the desired response from the loved one, we feel calmer.

So what about dogs? Do dogs produce oxytocin?

A report last year in the magazine Science found that simply gazing into each other’s eyes produced higher levels of oxytocin in both dogs and their owners. They also found that dosing the dogs with oxytocin intranasally resulted in longer gazing, more oxytocin production, and more reported feelings of connectedness and bondedness in the humans.

This is something I have suspected for a while, that when I love on Keeva, I increase both her levels of oxytocin and mine and I strengthen the trust, bond, and connection between us. The more I love on her, the more she trusts and loves on me.

But more importantly, how do we use this information to strengthen people relationships?

The attachment folks tell us over and over about the need to focus on attachment behaviors—specifically eye contact, attachment touch, attachment voice, and leave-taking & rejoining rituals—all activities that stimulate oxytocin production.

1. Eye Contact: If you watch couples in love, close friends talking, or mothers and babies, you will see them making intense and prolonged eye contact, like the dogs in the Science study. Sadly, as our children (and our marriages) get older we often make less eye contact, and sometimes only in conflict. A practical suggestion is to spend one on one time with your spouse, child, or friend face to face, focusing on making extensive eye contact while listening, with and without words.

2. Attachment Touch: This includes non-sexual caresses, gentle touches on the shoulder as you pass, hugs, kisses, unnecessary touch throughout the day, every day that says, “I see you, I hear you, I know you are there, I love you, I am committed to you”. Pet your kids, your spouse, and your friends as much as you pet your dog.

3. Attachment Voice: Ever notice that when you talk to your dog or your baby you use a special tone of voice? It is not necessarily baby talk, but is a way of speaking that is distinctly different. Usually it is a higher tone, more musical and expressive, maybe including nonsense sounds, nicknames, etc. Try using an adaptation of this voice with your loved ones. If they ask what you are doing, tell them you are trying something new to help them to feel how important they are to you.

4. Leave-taking/Rejoining Rituals: Whenever you leave your loved ones, whether for shorter or longer periods of time, it is vital that you say, “Good-bye” with intentionality, attention, and presence. When you come back together it is also vital to do so intentionally, with attention, and presence. Often in the busyness of life we neglect leave-taking and rejoining rituals, and do subtle damage to our relationships. When you say “Goodbye” and “Hello again” intentionally, you are communicating, “I see you, I hear you, you matter to me, I love you, and I am committed to you”. When you neglect such expressions, you subtly communicate the opposite, “you are invisible to me, you don’t matter, I don’t have time for you, and I am not committed to you.” You may not be intending to communicate these things, but they come across non-verbally. In this same vein pay particular attention to bed-time rituals. Marriage researcher, Stan Tatkin, is famous for stating that everyone, child and adult,needs to be put to bed at night.

As you begin working on these behaviors, notice the emotions that come up. It is likely the feelings will be positive. Enjoy them, prolong them, sit with them, and let them seep deeply into you. But you may find some negative emotions mixed in with the positive feelings: do you sense anger, resentment, hopelessness, fear, or worthlessness? These feelings may be markers of unresolved hurts in you or the relationship and they block your full enjoyment of the lovely effects of oxytocin. Take note of negative feelings and journal and pray to identify and begin resolving them. Once resolved you will be able to delight in the fruits of all of the hard work that you have put into your relationships.

And do not neglect Fido! We all need as much oxytocin as we can get.



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Closing the Gap

As you enter the “underground” train in London a disembodied voice says distinctly, almost sternly, “Mind the gap!” reminding you to adjust your step for the space between the platform and the train.

The subject of gaps comes up a lot in counseling. These are not subway gaps, of course, but they are gaps nonetheless. A writer recently introduced me to a quote by Ira Glass about the need to tolerate “the gap” while continuing to work to try to close it.

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.”

Ah yes, “the gap”…so many “gaps”. The gap between my taste and my creative product, between my dream and my reality, between what I know and what I do, between what I believe and how I act, between “the desire to do what is right…[and] the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18)

Ira Glass’s answer to gaps in the creative realm is perseverance:

“It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” (Ira Glass Video)

Glass talks of gaps between vision and reality in our work. But how do we close the gap in the areas that are arguably more vital to our lives: our relationships? How do we close the gap between wanting to be patient and being patient when the beloved is doing that annoying thing again? How do we close the gap between wanting to enjoy the “peace that passes understanding” and resisting the temptation to worry about all of the threats out there? How do we stay engaged with our loved ones when everything in our being wants to leave, explode, escape?

In the creative process Ira Glass speaks of “going through a volume of work,” persisting despite the failures and discouragement. In our relationships, because they are so important to us, it is perhaps easier to get discouraged and be tempted to give up. Here are some of my thoughts about producing a large body of relational work, in order to close the gap between how we want to love and how we actually love. For people of faith, the apostle Paul reminds us that this is a process that God’s Spirit does inside us and in which we fully and willingly engage (Philippians 2:12-13).
  • Build New Response Patterns Using “Mental Practice” and “Real Life Practice.” “Mental Practice” (also called cognitive rehearsal) is imagining yourself acting the way you want to act in the difficult situation. Run the movie in your head, pray the movie in your imagination with specific details. The value of detailed and specific mental practice is well-documented among professional athletes (“imagine yourself doing the perfect layup”) and professional musicians (“play the piece in your head”). Brain researchers tell us that mental practice uses the same parts of the brain as real-life practice, without the mistakes, and strengthens the associated neural networks. Every new experience, mental or behavioral, changes your brain architecture—this may explain neurologically what happens when, as the apostle Paul describes it theologically, we are to, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2). Prayerfully run the movie many times in your head then begin practicing the new response pattern in real life—often and a lot.
  • Keep Short Accounts. When you blow it—and you will blow it frequently—do not quit and do not ignore it. Instead lean into your failure, confess the wrong, take full responsibility for your choices, talk about the hurt you caused, and ask for forgiveness. Even if the other person is mostly at fault, it will change the dynamic if you confess your “five percent.” (See Matthew 5:21-26). Again, prayerfully, often, and a lot.
  • Keep Your “Love Maps” Updated. A “Love Map” (a term coined by Dr. John Gottman) is a working model in your mind of your loved one’s internal and relational world—their relationships, friends, stresses, dreams, concerns, etc. Some people compare the “Love Map” to a war general’s “Battle Map” detailing everything the general needs to know in order to make good decisions. Life changes fast, and it is vital that we keep up-to-date Love Maps on the ones we love. Make time daily or weekly to ask, “What is coming up that you are excited/worried/angry/pleased about?”
  • Deal With “Implicit Memories”. “Implicit memories” are what the brain scientists call those consciously and unconsciously triggered memories from the past that seem to have an inordinate effect on our present reactions. There is much debate about how much the past and the unconscious affect our present choices. It is undeniable, however, that sometimes your (or your loved one’s) reaction is out of proportion to the current situation, as if you/he/she is reacting to someone or something other than current external reality. If you have doubts that you do this, ask your significant others; I am sure they will be glad to correct your faulty perspective. The problem with unconscious (or as one writer terms them “quasi-automatic”) reactions is that they must be addressed indirectly, looking for the shadows that hint at their existence. Techniques to help get at these memories are journaling, talk therapy, mentor relationships, certain kinds of reprocessing psychotherapies (such as EMDR), and even activities such as improvisational theatre. A little investment in this area can pay large dividends in relationships especially with the aid of a wise guide.

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” I Peter 4:8

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Are You There For Me?

There is a growing body of data on the science of committed love. The technical term is Attachment. Attachment is the heart of love relationships. It is what people are fundamentally looking for when they are courting and trying to determine if they should marry. Attachment is at the center of every “Define the Relationship” conversation.

Dr. Sue Johnson identifies three components of Attachment under the acrostic ARE: As my loved one, can I reach you? (Accessibility); Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally? (Responsiveness); and, Do I know you will value me and stay close? (Engagement). In a courting relationship, if the answer to any of the Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement questions above is “No”, the relationship will probably not go forward.

Attachment is the root (usually unidentified) of every major marital argument. We may begin by arguing about the dishes, but inevitably, and within minutes or seconds, the unspoken meaning of the argument becomes “What does this mean for our relationship if you can treat me like that? Do you even value me?” The fear of loss of the Attachment relationship is what gives arguments about trivialities their “life or death” intensity. If we do not know what we are truly arguing about we will have the same intense argument about the same silly things over and over. The cause of every divorce is the rupture of the marital Attachment bond, whether by neglect, conflict, or adultery.

To be successful, a marriage counseling approach has to address the rupture and repair of this fundamental Attachment connection. Some approaches focus on communication and conflict resolution, some on “love and respect”, some on mutual need meeting, but each one, whether directly or indirectly, will get at Attachment.  Attachment asks, “Are you there for me? Can I count on you? Do I matter to you? Is what is important to me important to you? When I am in need, will you come for me when I call?”

You may have noticed that the term Attachment does not appear in the Bible; however the Bible is bursting with examples of God reassuring his people of his attentiveness, his faithfulness, his accessibility, his compassion, his care, and his love. The Bible’s term is “covenant”, which encompasses everything essential in the psychological term Attachment and then expands it. Attachment is what finally draws us to God: He makes a covenant with us; he unites us to himself and to his covenant community. 

Valentine’s Day is a good time to take inventory of our relationships. Self-absorption, the busyness of life, hurt, resentment, fear, and confusion all eat away at the Attachment bond of even the most solid relationships. This Saturday I challenge you to talk to each of your loved ones, romantic and otherwise. Ask them if they experience you as Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged.  Then ask them for two specific ways you can improve (and listen carefully to their answers).  It may be the most loving (and romantic) gift you give this Valentine’s Day. 

May you sense God’s attentive, responsive, loving presence with you, empowering you, and flowing through you this Valentine’s Day.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Pollyanna's Weapon

  "Oh, yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about – no matter what ’twas", rejoined Pollyanna, earnestly. 

I have always liked Pollyanna.  Maybe growing up at boarding school without my parents, I identified with her.  When I first read the classic story to my daughters, I was delighted by her “just being glad” game.  Do you remember?  When Pollyanna is disappointed that she receives crutches in a missionary care package instead of the doll she requested, her father teaches her the game, how to always find something to be genuinely glad about—“Why, just be glad that you don’t need ‘em”

Since Eleanor H. Porter created her 100 years ago, Pollyanna has, unfairly I think, been the subject of cynical ridicule, the portrait of naïve, denial-based thinking.  But throughout the story we see Pollyanna both acknowledging her negative feelings and then engaging in the discipline that her wise and Godly father taught her—that one can always find something to be thankful for, even in the most miserable of situations.  That’s not naïve…it just matches the New Testament instruction to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1Th.5:18).

Over the years, I have come to see thankfulness as a powerful yet often underestimated weapon against despair, dismay, and despondency.  Living in a fallen world tempts us to become cynical, to harden ourselves against disappointment, to believe the worst so that we will not get hurt, to protect ourselves by holding on to resentment and bitterness, to lower our expectations so that we will not have our hopes dashed yet again.

Thankfulness, however, softens the heart.  It opens us to each other when, like Pollyanna, it allows us to see the wonder and beauty in difficult people and situations.  Thankfulness is the natural antidote to envy.  In thankfulness, I focus not on what I lack but on what I have.  Thankfulness humbles me, since I recognize that I am indeed the recipient of gifts that I have not earned.  Thankfulness humanizes and energizes me to engage more fully and vigorously with the people God brings into my life, because I feel richer, blessed, and secure in what I have been given.  When I engage in thankfulness, I am inevitably recognizing what is deeply important to me rather than focusing on the superficial details that I am tempted to complain about.  On a personal note, when I shift from self-pity to thankfulness, my family says that I begin making sense to them again—I am refocusing on what I always tell them is important. 

There is a fascinating, dramatic shift in a person’s whole attitude when he or she begins to look for things for which to be thankful.  It seems in thankfulness we shift mental gears, and begin using different parts of the brain.  Researchers have identified that the parts of the brain activated in thankfulness are associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine, which both makes us feel good and also helps us initiate action.  Research has also shown that simply increasing a person’s thankfulness results in lowered depression, improved sleep, decreased anxiety, improvements in exercise patterns, and an overall reduction in general aches and pains.

Whatever the biological operations that are involved, when we engage in genuinely giving thanks, we are naturally required to let go of attitudes of entitlement, and to relinquish cynical expectations of harshness, stinginess, and meanness.  The paradox is that we actually become strong through weakness—as we relinquish our “high standards” we receive better and more rewarding results. 

Here are four ideas to prime your thankfulness this season.  Pick one or try all four:

1.       Three Things:  At the end of every day write in a notebook (or on your smart phone) three things that went well today, interactions that brought you joy or satisfaction, specific things you are thankful for that you experienced today.  The key to this exercise is to be detailed and specific, not general.

2.      Seek Delight:  As you proceed through your day, be intentional about looking for things to delight in, especially as you talk to your loved ones.  When you are tempted to be critical, shift your attention slightly to look for something for which to be thankful.  If you have enough information to be critical, you have enough information to be thankful.

3.      Be Glad:  Teach your family to play the “Just Being Glad” game.  Maybe read the section in Pollyanna to refresh your memory (you can find excerpts online).  Have fun laughing and playing the game, helping each other to genuinely “be glad”.

4.      Stir It Up:  Make a list of ways that you can stir up thankfulness spontaneously in your loved ones and coworkers.  Do surprising acts of generous selflessness that catch people off-guard.

Thankfulness takes practice, but actually doing it may change your heart and your brain.  Or as Pollyanna says, "…lots of times now I just think of them without thinking, you know. I've got so used to playing it. It's a lovely game.”

Blessings this Thanksgiving,


“Gratitude bestows reverence...changing forever how we experience life and the world.”  John Milton

“I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul…” Ps. 31:7

Friday, August 30, 2013

Embracing Grief

I have been reading Anne Lamott recently. In her reflections on grieving she states "...the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place...only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it." (Traveling Mercies)

Change is a constant in life--good, bad, and neutral. With each change, even good change, comes loss. That is why exciting events such as an engagement, a move to a new home, or the birth of a child end up high on the list of key stressors. Positive events, and certainly negative ones, all introduce stress and change, and grief because what once was, is no longer. After a recent move to a new home, a child told me that she preferred her old, small apartment. In the face of a big new house, she missed what was small and familiar. Even at a young age, she needs to grieve her losses while, at the same time, delighting in all that the new home has to offer.

Often we "...fall for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately." (Lamott). Or we ignore that we have indeed experienced loss and we distract ourselves with busyness, becoming preoccupied. Grief feels so out of control, so helpless, so interminable, so useless--and we seek to deny it, avoid it, and skip to the end.

Sometimes the weight of grief descends upon us, but often our tendency is to herd it into a compartment as quickly as possible and lock it away so that we can get on with life. But as Lamott so eloquently expresses it, we can end up in a "barren, isolated place," cut off from vital parts of ourselves and from the very comfort for which we so deeply long.

In addition to Ann Lamott, I have also been reading the Psalms. In the Lament Psalms, the Old Testament sages embrace their grief honestly and genuinely. They "cry and writhe and yell and then keep on crying….”   Sometimes their mourning gives way to hope, but sometimes, as in Psalm 88, they have to wait with darkness as their only companion.

Some of us know the grieving we have to walk through, others are still in denial. I know that, for myself, grieving means becoming vulnerable and acknowledging that I lost something or someone I cared for. Most importantly, it means trusting more in God and his love, and relying less on my ability to deny, minimize, repress, rationalize, and pretend.

A good way to begin healthy grieving is to make a list of losses you have experienced. Be detailed and specific. Ask a trusted confidant to add to your list--sometimes, in our denial, we can miss the obvious. Then pick a Lament Psalm--say Psalm 6 (or perhaps 22, 38, 88 or 102)--and rewrite it, inserting your own feelings and experiences. Then read it aloud. Cry, writhe, yell, and pray.
Grieving work is paradoxical. As another writer well acquainted with grief has put it, "The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering. Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss. Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace and love." (Jerry Sittser,A Grace Disguised).

As we allow ourselves to experience grief, not only do we grow emotionally and spiritually, but we can more easily walk with others who find themselves in similar places.  Our capacity for empathy, faithfulness, and love grows. And that is a very good thing.