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?

Pascal.jpg

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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Alone – In a Relationship

How Did I Get Here?

When we find ourselves in a difficult relationship one of the questions we tend to ask is; “how did I get here?”

Nobody starts a relationship with the expectation that, somewhere down the road, we’re going to end up feeling isolated, unloved and alone. So if that was not our intention how did it happen? Let me give you a few of the detours we take that lead down the road to an unfulfilling relationship.

It all centers around the fact we are reproducing the only kind of relationship we know.

I tell my clients that we will only deal with the past when the past gets in the way of our future. Unfortunately this is almost always the case. We learn our relationship skills from those who modeled relationships to us. How our parents resolved conflict, created a safe and secure environment and met our emotional, physical and spiritual needs will become the model we think of as “normal”.

I can hear some of you saying; “Wait a minute! I hated the way I grew up and I am doing everything I can to do it differently”. I acknowledge your efforts and support your intentions but changing the dysfunctional relational patterns of the past requires more than just recognizing what did not work; it requires the ability to put new healthy patterns in place. In order for true change to happen we must implement lifestyle changes that will feel awkward, totally unnatural and difficult to consistently apply. Here are some of the areas that we often struggle in:

How was conflict managed in your home?

Were criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling used when disagreements arose? Was there a “win at all cost” mentality? Or were you like many of us never privy to the arguments that happened behind closed doors. Few of us learned how to express anger or our complaints in a healthy way so naturally we find it difficult to do it in our relationships.

How was love and comfort expressed?

Did you feel loved and cherished in your home or did you feel like you were on the outside looking in? Conversely, were you smothered and used as an emotional support system for one or both of your parents. Not experiencing healthy love and comfort in our home leaves us with a deficit that is extremely hard to fill, especially by an unaware spouse.

How was communication handled?

Was information communicated directly or did it come through channels. If someone was angry or upset did you hear it from them or did it come at you via third parties. If we or our partner is unused to direct communication then we may feel threatened or frightened by their frankness and it may be difficult for us feel connected.  

What were the expectations for each family member?

What was expected of each member in your home? These expectation are often transferred to your new relationships without even a conscious thought that your spouse may have a different set of expectations. 

If you and your spouse are not in agreement in these areas then you are bound to feel misunderstood and alone. We create such strong and deeply held beliefs that when our partner shares a contrary view we can’t accept it, much less understand it. If we are ever going to have healthy, satisfying relationships we need to understand what those relationships look like.

After all, a sure way to become utterly lost is to redouble your effort after you have lost sight of your goal.  And that is what a lot of us do when we’re in unhappy relationships. We try desperately to make changes in ways that are just as dysfunctional as what we are trying to change. The real change needs to happen in us before we can hope to see a significant change in our relationship.

I have often had clients recount to me a litany of failed and dysfunctional relationships as if there was some grand conspiracy to make sure that they would never find happiness. I always listen patiently. (Okay, sometimes I get a wee bit impatient) But I do understand that there is deep pain and sadness when we feel disconnected, alone and hopeless. Eventually we get around to the inevitable question. What do all these relationships have in common? At this point my client has a very hard time answering that question but eventually (with some prodding) the light comes on and they say – it’s me. Yes, I say in my wisest and most compassionate tone, it is you. So what do you want to do about that?

We are at the center of our lives for good or for bad so if we’re ever going to experience something different we’re going to need to see what we are doing in order to create something new. And that my friends is why we look at the past and ask the above questions.

If you are having difficulty with knowing what healthy relationships look like I have a suggestion. Read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10 and 1 Corinthians 13) and especially study the life of Jesus Christ. For in his example we find the highest, truest, and most worthy example of how we are to interact with one another. Or as the Apostle Paul said so well:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:5-11 NIV

As always if ever we can help you on your journey to find joy we're here to help.

The Cubs, Hope and God

I came to Cubs Nation later in life. Unlike many Die Hard Cubs Fans I was not born to the Ivy and Blue. I grew up with the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and the melodious voice of the incomparable Vin Scully calling the Dodger games. But when I moved my family to Chicago at the age of 30 I became ripe for the picking and was wooed into Cubs Kingdom even though it seemed a futile hope to ever go all the way to become World Champions. When did my heart turn toward the Cubs? Was it on the purple line “El” ride to Wriggly Ville with its historic charm? You see Dodger Stadium is basically surrounded by a parking lot which has all the ambiance of the 405 freeway. Perhaps it was the first time I stepped out from behind the bleachers to see the painted message “welcome to the friendly confines” with the outfield ivy and the the the flags flying with the numbers of Cub's heroes.

No, all those external charms were not enough to spark my love for the Cubs. What really won my heart was the unwavering optimism that was present at each game. Let’s call it hope. Hope that someday we would go all the way; hope that next year would be this year. This hope compelled the faithful to get to the game early and NEVER leave until the fat lady sang. This hope was often excruciating, because the greater the hope the greater the pain of disappointment. But even in 108 futile years that hope would not die. People died; generations of families never saw a world championship come to the North Side but the hope … it never quit.

What is it about us that craves this kind of hope? I’m convinced it’s not about baseball, it’s bigger than baseball and more fundamental to the human heart. The Cubs tapped into it but they did not create it. Someone once said that humans can live 60 days without food, 30 days without water, 6 minutes without air but not one second without hope. We see this hope in every story we tell and every election we hold. We need it just as surely as we need air to breathe.

And that brings us to God. Implanted into the heart of man is an ancient memory of something far better than what we are now experiencing. In the still moments, when our soul is in deep reflection we remember the story of how we were loved and how we turned from our true Lover to seek another way. We feel the agony of being separated from something that is so right and good. Death, darkness and cruelty drive us almost to the point of despair but still we hope. We place that hope in surrogates like Cubs, or a new President, but it is never enough. Our hearts were made for a greater hope, a redemption beyond a World Series title. And so I love the Cubs for reminding me that hope can be fulfilled! I love the Cubs for awakening the deeper hope inside me for a victory that is beyond anything I can imagine. And that leads me to what my Grampa Swanson used to say:

Christ in you, the hope of glory
— Colossians 1:27 NIV

I love the Cubs for encouraging me to look up for the consummation of all my dreams and desires through the final redemption of creation. The “C” on my cap stands for Cubs and Chicago but for me it also stands for Christ who is the fulfillment of hope for all mankind.

Why Care for Animals? - A Christian Perspective

It is a proven fact that owning a pet has definite health benefits both psychological and medical.

Research in the field of human health and medical psychology has provided evidence to suggest that dog and cat owners have better psychological and physical health than non-owners. Dog owners are also reported to recover more quickly after serious mental and physical illness, and even make fewer visits to their doctor.
— Veterinary Record; Journal of the British Veterinary Association

The National Center for Health Research concluded that …

findings indicated that having a dog or cat lowered the risk of heart disease, as well as lowering stress so that performance improved.

Here is a very heart warming story of the therapeutic effect a dog had on an overweight, unhealthy man

Conversely the maltreatment of animals is an indicator of mental illness and social dysfunction. In other words you can tell how a person will treat people by the way they treat animals.

Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people. Deviant behaviors such as animal abuse generally originate from a traumatic childhood. The American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty as one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder.
— Canadians for Animal Welfare Reform

This truth was known a millennia earlier:

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
— Francis of Assisi

Two Secular Views and Animal Welfare

But having a commitment to animal welfare based upon what advantages they bring to humans is a shaky foundation. It leads to the possible conclusion that mistreatment of animals can be an acceptable behavior if it is in our best interest. An anthropocentric philanthropy will not sustain a vigorous defense of animal rights.

Neither is the Darwinist Evolutionary view an adequate foundation. The basis of this theory is, “survival of the fittest to reproduce”. Therefore if an animal is weak and vulnerable it should be removed from the gene pool and allowed to die so that its inherent weakness is not passed down to the next generation. But who can turn a blind eye to a suffering and defenseless animal?

So what foundation for animal welfare is adequate to promote a vigorous defense against animal cruelty and promote their well-being?  

The Biblical Mandate to Care for Animals

I propose that the Judaeo Christian view of animal welfare offers the strongest defense for human animal care because it transcends our personal utility and makes the care of animals a stewardship given to us by our Creator God. It also speaks to the commitment to even the "least of these" animals regardless of their ability to further the evolutionary process. 

God gave man authority over “every living creature”

Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
— Genesis 1:28 NIV
So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals
— Genesis 2:20 NIV

Therefore our care for animals is a mandate from God and keeping it is an act of obedience  to God which is the primary way we demonstrate our love for our Lord.

If you love me you will keep my commandments
— John 14:15 NIV

When man rebelled against God the consequences were not only disastrous for mankind but also the animal kingdom because they also suffer under the curse of death. But in a very real sense their suffering is worse since they did nothing to cause it but were innocent victims of our sinful act of disobedience. 

But someday they too will be liberated and fully restored and in that they share in our hope for redemption. 

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God
— Romans 8:20, 21 NIV

Here are four biblical reasons we are to seek the welfare of animals.

  1. We were given authority over animals by our Creator and will be held to account for this stewardship.
  2. We are commanded to always act with our primary motivation being demonstrating God's loving kindness - this includes how we treat animals.
  3. We (Mankind) were the cause of the suffering brought on the animal kingdom (through our rebellion) therefore we have an duty to help alleviate it now.
  4. The Animal Kingdom will also experience full redemption when the Messiah returns to rule and reign therefore they are a continuing part of God eternal plan.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord
— Isaiah 65:25 NIV

Meanwhile what a beautiful gift they are to us … let’s cherish them!

The Simplicity of being a Sheep

I do not come from an agrarian culture; I grew up in a stucco clad track home in a city where it was a novelty to find a building that was older than me.  That is why it is easy for me to idealize the idea of sheep. They are fluffy white creatures who live on grassy green hills with their flute playing shepherd gently lullabying them to sleep, Right?

No, they are pretty clueless creatures that if not for the protection and guidance of the shepherd would be dead. So when Jesus continually referred to his followers (a group of hearty fishermen and the like) as sheep I can imagine that they were just a little uncomfortable with that depiction. I imagine them squirming a bit and politely asking Jesus if he could maybe create another metaphor like eagles or lions.

But God referring to us as sheep has a rich tradition in Scripture and there is a good reason for that. We are sheep! We act foolishly, are vulnerable to predators and have but one quality; we know the shepherd, listen to him and we follow.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—
— John 10:14 NIV
The gatekeeper [shepherd] opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
— John 10:3 NIV

When a sheep stops following that is when they are in greatest danger. The shepherd leads them to food, away from danger and protects them with his very life. If a sheep decides to starts believing it is a lion it would be laughable - and tragic. We need to accept our "sheepness". Humbling yes, but very, very real.

So in keeping with our sheep intellect let me brake this down into two parts; our job as a sheep is to:

  1. Listen to the Shepherd’s voice

  2. Follow it

Here is a poem I wrote from the perspective of a sheep …

I am a sheep
I am to listen for my Shepherd’s voice and follow him
I am a Sheep
I have no protection apart from the Shepherd
I am a Sheep
I will go hungry and die in the wilderness unless I follow the Shepherd
My Shepherd goes before me and calls me to himself with his voice
My job is to hear his voice and follow
There are other voices, those that do not belong to the Shepherd
I must not follow those voices for they are out to kill and destroy me
I have only one job, listen for my Master’s voice and follow Him
Often I will not see Him; He is hidden from my view
For I am but a sheep and my eyes are close to the ground
But I can listen and follow and go where He leads
There are times when the way is rough and far from green pastures
My heart grows faint in these places
But I am not to look about me and try to understand the way
For I have but a sheep’s understanding
I am to listen for my Shepherd’s voice and follow
That is what I do
I can do nothing else
Nothing else matters
It is the Shepherd who is my whole world and He is Good!
His voice is true
In Him is my whole existence
I am His sheep
He is my Shepherd and I will listen for His voice and
Follow Him.

 

We at Total Wellness Resource Center are committed to helping with the Spiritual, Mental, Physical and Occupational wellbeing of our clients. Please reach out to us if there is any way we can assist you on your journey.