Expectatitus: The Disease that Stole Christmas!

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Are you without someone you love this Christmas season? Are you longing for a tradition that will not be happening this year? Do all the decorations and happy wishes make you wish that it were January? If so, you’re not a Grinch you probably have a bad case of Expectatitus.

Other names for this disease are the holiday blues or a bad case of nostalgia. It comes on when things are not the way they are supposed to be and our dream for that “perfect Christmas” doesn't come true. When this happens we are in danger of catching the disease Expectatitus.

Expectatitus: A disease of the spirit that is often caught around major holidays and special events when expectations are not met. Symptoms include a general malaise brought on by an unsuccessful attempt to recreate a past experience or tradition. Below is a symptom checklist

Diminished Vision:  Those afflicted become blind to the true joys of the moment and the beauty all about them.

Difficulty Hearing: New ideas and creative solutions are not heard

Negative Speech Patterns:  These and other phrases are common to those afflicted with Expectatitus “I wish it was like it was”, or “If only __________ were here”. Or “we’ve always done it that way” 

Perception Problems: Dilutions regarding a perfect past and flawless expectations are experienced by those afflicted with Expectatitus.   

Warning: Expectatitus is a progressive disease that ultimately affects the heart.

The Heart becomes rigid and obsessed with the past and unable to find contentment, peace, and joy in the present experiences.

If you or someone you know is showing any of these symptoms then it is critical that you take immediate action because this disease is both highly communicable and often genetic. Those with the disease spread it to others causing them to exhibit the same symptoms. It is also passed down from generation to generation through creating unalterable and pointless traditions.

Is there a cure?

Yes! It requires one to put aside their own preconceptions and unbending expectations to focus on the true nature of the event. In the case of Christmas, the afflicted person must stop making Christmas about what and more about who. The ability to be flexible, and focus on the true meaning of Christmas is essential to full recovery.

Mary: a case study of one who did not contract Expectatitus

The circumstances of Jesus’ birth was not at all what Mary had in mind for her first child. Nine months pregnant she was forced to travel hundreds of miles to a town where she knew no one. When she arrived she began to have contractions but discovered there wasn’t even a corner of a room for her to have her baby. An animal stall became her delivery room, her attendees were the displaced animals and the welcoming party consisted of a band of shepherds; societies outcasts. This wasn't even close to what she would have dreamt of much less hoped for. So how did she deal with this situation? The record shows that Mary took it all in and this was her attitude.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
— Luke 2:19

Mary put aside her expectations and experienced the wonder of the moment. Even if she didn’t quite understand the significance of what was happening. She kept herself open to these experiences and in the coming years gained greater awareness of the miracle of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

So that is the cure to Expectatitus? It is not in the forsaking of our dreams and traditions but rather in being open to all that is new around us. It is the ability to focus on what is truly important. So during this Christmas season let’s do what Mary did and treasure the unimaginable gift of God in the birth of Jesus and make our goal to share our love and joy to all around us. No matter what our circumstances.

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Happiness Truly is a Matter of the Heart

What do you really desire in life? What keeps you up at night and gets you up early in the morning? What do you clutch onto so hard that you will protect it with your last ounce of strength?

That is your treasure and that is also where your heart is.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
— Matthew 6:21 NIV

In my work, I see a lot of people who are desperately trying to hold on to something that is not giving them the life they desire. It could be money, relationships, a career or score of other things that seem to melt away the tighter they clutch on to them. The problem is those “things” never satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. I am not advocating quitting your job or leaving your relationships, what I believe we need to do is to no longer see those things as the fulfillment of our desires. In fact, the more we try to make them do that the more miserable we make ourselves.

An example of this is money.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs
— 1 Timothy 6:10 NIV

The point Paul is making in this verse is that when we pursue (love) that which cannot satisfy our souls we end up doing ourselves harm – akin to stabbing ourselves.

God knows we need money, and careers and homes – but we were made for something much more satisfying than this stuff. We were made for God himself.

When we “wonder” it often starts innocently. We become delighted by some new toy or someone strokes our ego. Pretty soon we’re saying this feels good … I want more. So we start chasing this new shiny object and then it happens. That object becomes our treasure rather than the one who ultimately gives all good gifts.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
— Matthew 7:11 NIV

Is there anything that we need that he is not willing to give us?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
— Romans 8:32 NIV

This is a call for deep reflection. I confess I am guilty of seeking the gift rather than the giver – of longing for the resource rather than making the source of all blessings my heart’s desire.

Could this be why there is so much depression, anxiety and relational brokenness in our lives? Could we be deceived into believing the lie that something other than our Creator can satisfy our deepest longing?

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Blaise Pascal

"There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator made known through Jesus Christ.” 

So are you saying, James, that we’re not supposed to desire anything but God? No, I am saying that we are not to desire anything MORE THAN God. And when we receive what we desire we are to immediately thank him for what we have received.

God has no problems with us asking him for … whatever. But like the excellent father he is, he withholds the right to give us only what is best for us. If we become enamored with the shiny things of this world and he knows that they will cause us to wander off into places that will cause us harm, then like any good father he will withhold these things. Wouldn’t you?

Ask for whatever you wish and if your dearest desire is to honor the Lord and bless him with your life, it will be irrelevant whether you receive it or not because he will give you the ultimate desire of your heart. Your soul will be abundantly satisfied. And isn’t that what we truly crave?

Prayer of reflection

O Lord, I come to you seeking to open my heart to your gaze. Look deeply into my longings Lord and see if there is anything that I desire more than you. Search my heart Lord and reveal any attachments to whatever is not you. You are my source for all that I need. You have promised to graciously give me whatever is necessary. Help me to take my eyes off of all the “shiny things” in this world and fix them upon you. I confess I am so easily distracted. You know all things and you also know that my deepest, passionate desire it to bring you honor and glory in my life. Create in me a steadfast spirit that will live this desire in every area of my life.

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The Most Important Thing to Forget

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Are you looking for the key to happiness? If you aren’t you really should be. I am not saying that we should invest ourselves in some kind of spiritual treasure hunt because there’s no single truth or life skill that will produce perfect happiness, joy, peace or love. But if we are not continually striving to learn new truths and grow in our character then … well, we might as well be dead.

So I’m going to propose a life-skill that, if it is not at the top of your list, it really should be.  I have found neglecting this is responsible for massive heartaches and destroyed countless relationships. It is summed up in this one statement by the Apostle Paul:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus
— Philippians 3:13-14

What I have discovered over and over again in my life is I can not press on toward the goal if I am not willing to forget what is behind me. That goal is not merely a quest for money, fame or a comfortable life, it is a heavenly goal ordained by God.  For Paul, that goal was to, “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. What he needed to forget was that in his former life he was a murderer and persecutor of the Church. I am sure it was very difficult for him to forget the pain he had caused so many people.

But what about you and me? What do we need to forget that is impeding the goal? For me, it is pretty much everything. I must let go of hurt feelings, broken promises, angry and cutting words, and anything else that will cloud my spirit and keep me from being free to pursue the heavenward call.

This forgetfulness is a decision to be free from bitterness and resentment. But let me be clear – forgetfulness does not mean our emotions are suddenly healed or our relationships are magically restored. Emotions have their own timetable for healing. The decision to forget a past injury (whether it is self-inflicted or caused by another) will mean that you will always act in a way that is counter-emotional. This skill is rarely taught in our “do what you feel” culture but is an absolute necessity if you are going to achieve the ultimate goal that calls you heavenward.

Take a moment and assess your current state of forgetfulness.

  • Is there any past situation that caused you an injury that you are holding on to?
  • Are you beating yourself up for a past action or decision you made?
  • Is there someone whom you harbor resentment and anger toward?

If you have confessed the wrongs in your life then the next step is to forget – because God has.

If someone else has hurt you and you are holding on to anger and resentment then the next step is to forgive – because you have been forgiven for much more grievous sins by God.

But if we are unwilling to forget what is behind us then we will find those past things will plant themselves firmly in our future and keep us from experiencing the beautiful life we were meant to live.

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Is Gratitude the Cure for Anxiety?

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It is a fact that gratitude is a powerful way of reprograming our brains to enhance our emotions and improve our overall physical health. It is one of the keys to longevity and is creates powerful, life affirming relationships. When we are in a state of active gratitude we are less likely to be anxious, fearful, depressed or hopeless. We are also open to new perspectives and possibilities that are otherwise closed doors to us.

All this is a fact – proven over and over again through empirical studies. But still many of us find that gratitude eludes us. We struggle to remain positive in the face of so much that is negative in our world.

That is why I am here to say if you are waiting to be grateful until you “see” things to be grateful for then you will never experience the life altering effects of gratitude.

Gratitude is a discipline we must learn – it does not happen naturally. If you want the positive properties of gratitude you are going to need to work at it. And make no mistake, it is work because your brain is trained to focus upon whatever it perceives as danger – even when the danger is not even a remote possibility. That riot in the south, that shooting in New York, that famine in North Africa are all terrible events but they pose no danger to you – but a part of your brain doesn’t know that. So it directs you to those news stories because it is trying to protect you, and in the process, you are being filled with worry, fear, and anxiety.  In fact, anxiety becomes our cultural norm. And we wonder why our lives are so unsettled and we carry this a vague sense of apprehension wherever we go.

The first step to developing a life of gratitude is to turn off the flood of negativity that you expose yourself to everyday. This does not mean that you become uninformed or ignorant of the world around you, but that you recognize the effect this information is having on you. Put the news in perspective and don’t let it become your reality. Did you know that according to all governmental measurements incidences of violence is down over the past years? In fact, there has been less killing and mayhem in the world than in previous generations. But you would never know that  by watching the news. That is because mayhem sells advertising. Media producers know your brain is constantly scanning for anything that could be remotely dangerous and given the choice of watching a video of riots in the streets or puppies playing in the water, guess what the vast majority of viewers will watch?

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Be careful what you focus on for it is what you will become.

So limit your exposure to horrid, evil, vile and cruel information. You cannot change the situation but exposure to it will change you. If you must watch it then be aware of how it will affect you and determine to do something to engage in the situation in a positive way. In that way, you become active in bringing hope and healing to a situation rather than it bringing anxiety and fear into your life.   

Second Step: Learn to focus on what is good in your life and express thankfulness for it. This may be in the form of a gratitude list or just deciding periodically to find 10 things to be thankful for. Remember it is a discipline – it may be hard to turn your brain from the negative but you can do it if you want to. The benefits are amazing!

For the past couple of years, I have made it a habit of keeping a positive life-affirming journal. It has transformed my life and been part of the healing process from a lifelong tendency toward depression. I encourage you to try it. But even if journaling is not your thing find a way to make gratitude a daily discipline.

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Is Your "Hair" Hindering Your Happiness

Letting Go of Your Obsession

I am a cleaner … I like things clean. But compared to my wife I am a rank amateur! She cleans things like the top of door frames. (Who does that?) And when she’s done the house smells of bleach (Her cleaning weapon of choice) When house cleaning time comes my assignment is the bathrooms. Don’t know why this is but I seem to have a gravitational pull toward the toilet. In fact, in a former life, I received a mug award from Starbucks for my toilet cleaning prowess. And that would be fine with me but there is one thing, the bane of my cleaning existence, which I can’t seem to defeat. That one thing is hair!

My wife has an abundance of hair and we have a dog that never stops shedding. So I get the white porcelain spotless, I have floors gleaming and I step back to survey my handiwork. Bam! I spot it, strands of hair casually draping themselves on the toilet seat giving me that “you can’t get me” look! So I take out my rag prepare to do battle when I notice that my rag has hair clinging to the fibers. So I go to wash the rag in the “clean” sink and bam! The hair attaches its self to the sink. At this point, I choose the surgical approach and pluck one by one the individual strands and when I do they seem to magnetically attach themselves to my fingers. So I shake my fingers violently over the trash can only to have them fly off and land again on the toilet seat. It’s discouraging and demotivating, after all, if I can’t get it really clean what’s the use?

Have I told you how much I hate hair? I am seriously considering a Shandade O’Connor/ Yule Brenner look in our home! 

Why do a few strands of hair bother me so much? The bathroom is 99.99% clean – so what’s up with this obsession with 100%?

Then, I think about the “few strands of hair” in other areas of my life that I may obsess about.  The areas that aren’t perfect and will likely never be perfect. Some of these strands  are the people around me. These “strands of hair” mostly consist of my desire for others to be, think or act a certain way. 

But most of these “strands” consist of my internal focus on the way I think I “should” be. You know what I’m talking about. I should be more disciplined, focused, social, productive and on and on and on. I am constantly finding strands of hair on the white porcelain of my soul and I can’t seem to pluck them off. That’s because they are always going to be there. For just as I have hair messes in the bathroom because I am a living breathing imperfect being who lives with other living breathing imperfect beings who produce hair!  We are always going to have areas in our lives that are messy.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to work on cleaning up the messes but when we fixate on the “strands of hair” in our lives we end up losing perspective and sacrificing our happiness because - perfection is impossible.

So I’m going to make a new resolution. I am going to celebrate the beautiful parts of my life and not fixate on the messy parts.  I am going to pluck the hairs when I see them but not obsess when they are not entirely eliminated. I am going to give myself grace and mercy and the confidence that life is a journey, not a destination.

Somehow, when I do this it gives me greater strength to deal with the messy parts and lifts the heavy load of expectations off my shoulders so I can truly enjoy the awesome beauty of this precious moment.

What “strands of hair” are you living with in your life? What things are you fixating on and making a condition for happiness? 

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If You Want to be Happily Married You'll Need to Get Real Good at This!

Forgiveness is not an option to sustain a healthy relationship. Research has consistently shown that those who experience forgiveness in their romantic relationships achieve a greater sense of closeness and satisfaction than those who hold on to past offences.

First let me state what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgiveness is not trust. Trust is earned through actions that consistently demonstrate integrity. We can forgive an individual for what they have done but we do not necessarily need to trust them.
  • Forgiveness is not a feeling. If we wait until we feel like forgiving someone we probably will not … and if we do that forgiveness will be shallow and easily taken back.
  • Forgiveness is not circumstantial. Forgiveness cannot be tied to any other action or attitude on the part of the one forgiven – if it is then it can (and probably will be) withdrawn with the next offence.
  • Forgiveness is not primarily for the forgiven. When we forgive it is a great kindness we are giving to the one forgiven but it is an even greater kindness we are giving to ourselves. There are several reasons for this but primarily it is because we take ourselves out of the place of judge, jury and executioner and leave that to a greater and more knowledgeable court. As a Christian I find great comfort in the fact that my meager understanding of human affairs and hearts is not what determines the final outcome of anyone. I let the One who “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart” be responsible for the rewards and punishments. And even if you don’t believe in a personal God who will judge humanity most people believe in the law of sowing and reaping also known as, “what goes around, comes around”. Or as one old salt told me “the world will kick you in the A#@ much harder than I will”.  I also recognize that my opinion is very often clouded by my personal perspective which is usually based upon my needs and desires. So most offences are about me not getting treated the way I think I should be treated and are inherently selfish. Even if I could on some rare occasion be totally in the right why not just forgive it all and be done with the crap that harboring resentment produces?
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is a key component to being reconciled with another but when it is given it does not automatically produce reconciliation. Reconciliation requires several steps which include repentance, atonement and reconnection and is not unilateral because a true and humble awareness of the offence must be achieved and trust restored.   
  • Forgiveness is not easy. It can often be the hardest thing you will ever do and something that you will need to work at because it doesn’t come naturally. It is not an emotion it is a decision.

So here is a definition of forgiveness:

Forgiveness is a unilateral decision to free an offending party of all personal retribution for their action against you.

In an ongoing relationship there will be many times when we are inadvertently offended by our partner and we exercise unilateral forgiveness without our spouse even recognizing it. It is the sign of a healthy relationship to let go of small offences without letting them become the seeds of bitterness that blossom into full blown resentment. However, to maintain an intimate relationship, we must be willing and able to talk about our hurts to one another. Out of these conversations arise the intimate insights that make good relationships great. The willingness to forgive is at the core of these conversations for if we are unwilling to forgive then what is our ultimate objective?

Here are the benefits of forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness opens the door to restoring relationships. Like I said forgiveness does not automatically restore relationships but without it restoration is impossible.
  • Forgiveness reduces anxiety and harmful ruminations. Who really suffers when we hold resentment in our hearts? That’s right we do!
  • Forgiveness promotes genuine humility. When we forgive we naturally reflect on how many times we too were forgiven and that is humbling.
  • Forgiveness removes ammunition from the next relational conflict. It is common for old relational wounds to surface during the heat of an argument. This is truly like throwing gasoline on a fire. When we forgive we take away this flammable material and it is much easier to focus on the problem at hand.
  • Forgiveness most closely aligns ourselves with the heart of God. If you want to have a rich, powerful, deeply satisfying relationship with God then get good at forgiveness because that is God’s primary message to us.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you
— Colossians 3:13 NIV

I hope this is helpful. Please let us know if we can ever be of assistance. We are here for you!