Vocation – The Work a Person is Called To

Frederick Buechner writes: “It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b), on the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner, from his book, “Wishful Thinking”)

Counselling with Paddy — a Client Rave

Sometimes I receive raves. Here is one that I received not too long ago. [If passing this on to you seems too self-promoting, see the previous blogs on depression. You will be happy then!]

I walked into my first appointment with Paddy reluctantly to say the least, but I quickly learned that I was there for a purpose. I wanted him to know how “right” I was and how I had been so “wronged.” Paddy called me on it quite quickly.

What I received from him was far greater than I could have asked for. In those sessions where I was at my weakest, it was there that I felt safe to be “known.” Paddy would not judge me. Instead, I felt accepted and valued.

Paddy has an amazing calming ability. His compassion, counselling skills and use of humour were invaluable to me. He has the ability to reframe things causing me to look at life from a different perspective – frequently changing the intensity of my emotions. No two sessions were alike but Paddy remained constant, which was an anchor for me.

Anyone looking for a counsellor would be hard–pressed to find a more compassionate listener. But don’t go see Paddy if you aren’t willing to be challenged. And be sure to bring your sense of humour! Thanks Paddy.

Pain Causes Change

Issac Newton’s first law of motion is that “everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.” Psychologists know that pain causes change.

People and organizations change painfully. Recently, two organizations have contacted me to work with them as a change agent in their stuck organizational system. It is clear that shifting priorities, revamping goals and objectives, clarifying values, transitioning staff, getting leaders to listen to more than their own convictions, building a productive relationship ethos – all of this and more – is painful.

Sometimes in therapy it is important to provoke the pain of change rather than placate or remove immediate discomfort. In working with church-place and workplace organizations, I propose 7 steps of systems change.

Step 1: Valuing the experience of pain and the gains that dissatisfaction can produce. This is human reality.

Step 2: The discovery of attainable goals that are honestly believed, often articulated and creatively lived. This is the mission.

Step 3: The presence of a change agent (this is the leader) who can shift the organization from homeostasis (no change) to morphogenesis (more change). This is the leadership factor.

Step 4: A logical, planned and scaled process that is responsive to adjustment as needed. This is the change contract.

Step 5: The informed participation of the respected community as an active partner in the desired goal. This is the empowered followership.

Step 6: The active presence of a courageous and challenging leadership team (alone, a leader is helpless) with vision of the mission, balanced with a sense of humour, and a focus on the everydayness of ordinary life. This is the missional team.

Step 7: A commitment to celebration and continual renewal while appreciating that our attainments are always partial.

[Someone shout “Amen!”]

What Not to Say to Your Depressed Friend

Job had his counsellors and they were pretty good until they started to talk. At that point, they spiraled down — and quickly. Here are the kind of things people say to depressed people when they should probably just go home.

• Just think of those people who are worse off than you are.
• Life’s not fair.
• Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t help.
• Make a decision not to be so depressed.
• Snap out of it!
• Just get active and you will be fine tomorrow.
• It’s probably grief, or anger, or loss, or poor self-esteem, or something like that.
• Have you tried chamomile tea (or whatever)?
• I know how you feel. I was depressed for several days a couple of months ago.
• Haven’t you grown tired of all this “me, me, me” stuff?

It doesn’t take a professional counsellor to listen deeply and respond slowly. You can do it.

What Do You Say to Your Depressed Friend?

Mostly we say stuff that doesn’t help our depressed friend but relieves our urgency to impact helpfully and avoids our anxiety in sitting numbly. Then who are we helping? Probably ourselves.

Sitting patiently, looking caringly, wondering quietly — this helps, but eventually it is probably necessary to say something. So here are a few statements that, if said truthfully, have a better chance of helping than harming. Notice that the statements are non persuasive or argumentative, that they are not trying to be artificially “up,” and that they do not pose to identify (“I felt sad for a couple of days last week.”).

• You’re not alone in this.
• You are important to me.
• You are not going crazy.
• When all of this is over, I’ll still be here and so will you.
• I can’t really understand what you are feeling, but I can listen.
• I’m with you. I’m not going to give up on you.

Today a friend came into my office and asked in the most friendly way, “How are you doing?” And I told him of my dysphoric mood and he listened. And when I thought I was finished telling and talking, he still listened, looking affectionately, so I said some more. I found some good stuff to tell him that was hiding in my subconscious just below the melancholia. And then he asked to pray for me, offered me his hand to stand up and held me quietly for 15 seconds or so and then simply announced “Amen.”

[Next blog on “What Not to Say to Your Depressed Friend.”]

This blog is adapted from an article on Depression Alliance.

Take 2 Aspirin and Keep Away from Children

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. The first thing He said was, “Don’t.” “Don’t what?” Adam replied. “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit” God said.”Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve. . . we have forbidden fruit!” “No way!” “Yes, way!” “Do NOT eat the fruit!” said God. “Why?” “Because I am your Father and I said so!” God replied.

A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break and was He ticked! “Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit?” “Uh, huh,” Adam replied. “Then why did you?” said the Father. “I don’t know,” said Eve. “She started it!” Adam said. “Did not!” “Did too!” “DID NOT!”

Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus, the pattern was set and it has never changed. But there is reassurance in this story. If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give children wisdom and they haven’t taken it, don’t be hard on yourself. If God had trouble raising children, what makes you think it would be a piece of cake for you?

Advice for the day: If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: “Take two aspirin” and “Keep away from children.”

[Found this years ago — don’t remember where.]

Renewing Our Energies: Introversion — Extroversion Continuum

Some of us are natural introverts in an extroverted world. Pastors are often like this. Sometimes extroverts find themselves trapped in an introverted family. The tensions they both experience are palpable.

Introverts get energy from spending time alone, especially if tired, stressed or upset. Socializing is not for renewing their emotional selves. In fact, being with people, especially having to be “social,” tends to drain their energy. “People = pain” for many introverts, especially if they cannot control the social world. They look forward to the enjoyment of the company of a few people, usually not more than 6 or 12, or a newcomer who is intriguing, or people of a like mind. Introverts are people who need to know the rules of engagement in social settings and are anxious without visible structure. Large gatherings, like weddings or receptions, feel awkward and anxious, especially with lots of strangers. In these events, introverts find a company of a few who are like them, where they can connect and coalesce. They are often anxious when they are made the focus of attention. They tend to have depth in their relationships rather than breadth. They usually prefer to work by themselves. Extroverts may see them as antisocial, withdrawn, inhibited, elitist and uninterested.

Extroverts are vibrant people who enjoy the company of lots of others, so they generally shine at parties and rediscover themselves in crowds where there is a bit of chaos. They may be afraid of aloneness and silence – at least that is what their more introverted spouse or friend might say. A silent spiritual retreat can be torture for an extrovert. They thrive on meeting new people and they tend to develop their ideas mainly by talking it out with others. Some extroverts require an audience to have their thoughts make sense. They are inclusive and welcoming and are great at eliminating barriers and boundaries. They tend to have lots of connections (not so many “relationships”) – more breadth than depth. They can feel anxious when they are not with other people and they often find it draining when having to be on their own. While enthusiastic and winsome, to an introvert they can seem overwhelming, intrusive or “a bit much.” Extroverts can become self-pitying, agitated and withdrawn when not engaged in activities and action. Extroverts are stimulus hungry, needing activity and change as well as interaction. They look for events to be experienced and can become stimulus junkies, unsettling their family and friends.

No one is a “pure” introvert or extrovert; think of it as a continuum. Jack, as an example, is a sales associate with a VW dealership where he consistently wins the plaudits and awards of management. He knows how to make friends with shoppers who intuitively trust that he is not trying to sell them a vehicle that they don’t want. As a sales leader, he is less technique-focused than he is people-responsive. In fact, he resists sales courses with lots of hoopla, where he has to be “bigger than he really is.” His boss thinks he must be an extrovert but he is most energized at home playing board games with his teenaged kids and walking with his wife on the seawall, coffee in hand. He has learned to apply his natural introversion in an extroversion market.

John Gottman, the marital researcher, argues that 69% of relational / marriage difficulties are essentially unsolvable, conflicts that we learn to live with and, perhaps, prosper because of. The tension around introversion-extroversion is one of these unsolvables, binaries that are not readily reconciled but can be appreciatively accepted.

Can I Trust You? (Trust Rebuilding Questions)

One of the privileges of listening is that you get to learn. And I get to learn lots.

The other day a client told me about 4 levels of trust rebuilding when trauma has undermined a love relationship. Here are 4 questions that she uses to figure out if trust in her relationship can be rebuilt.

Do I trust that you are growing for you? Some people change just to appease the other and not because they have any interest in growing. You can only trust the change that is motivated by inner desire.

Do I trust that you are capable of the change that you want? Lots of people have good intent but this might not be enough to restore confidence in the relationship.

Do I trust that you are honest in what you say? Of course, there are levels of deceit and we all lie to ourselves. But do I see an honest attempt to be truthful in words and ways?

Do I trust that you will do what you say? Follow through is the big thing. Unless the person’s behaviour changes, it is hard to trust again.

I find these helpful questions when a friendship is violated by gossip, or when a partner promises to be clean and sober, or when a teenager needs to be bailed out from jail. Can I trust you?

My 3 Lives

I think of myself as having 3 lives.

There is my “family life;” marriage to Carole, organizing and participating in the household, that kind of thing. Plus, I am a new grandfather, which totally delights me. I anticipate weekly stroller-walks with Jasper Patrick McLaren on the West Van seawall, coffee cup in hand (my hand).

There is my “professional life” or how I earn money. I work as a psychologist in private practice – that is how many of the subscribers to my blog know me. This is where I listen more than I talk. Plus, I am a professor at Carey Theological College in marriage and family studies where I talk more than I listen. I don’t think my students know that I listen (see previous blog entitled “Intentional Listening is Indistinguishable from Love”) but they do know that I like to be listened to.

And there is my “life life.” This is where I usually find myself — in my head and in my heart. I think of this introversion as my “rumblings,” my unsaid ideas, angsts and hopes. Not many know my “life life” and perhaps not many know yours. (I think of my university extroversion as “ramblings.”)

My “life life” is where my faith sits. It used to be that faith was propositional to me – do this and God will do that. My faith is more organic now. It morphs. Today’s faith is different than tomorrow’s faith.

It also sits. My faith doesn’t run after things as much anymore. Sometimes it walks but often it just sits around.

My faith wobbles at times, too. This seems to me the risk of anything organic. Sometimes something is dying and something else is coming along. I don’t try to convince myself of faith anymore, and I have no need of convincing you of it either. I do less ritualistic reassurances: less study, more wondering; less being a cleric, more being a citizen; less exclusion, more welcome; less leadership, more looking.

I still maintain my coffee and chocolate sacraments. And I do church (CapChurch) where you can find me most Sundays morphing, wondering, sitting and drinking coffee.

Update (December 2018): I now have 3 grandchildren, I no longer teach at the university / seminary, and I don’t usually go to church on a Sunday morning. But I did buy a small electric chainsaw and I cut branches into small pieces. And my faith is strong and more funny.

Pre-Judging Others

I think of prejudice as social, spiritual, intellectual laziness. It is also uninformed, undifferentiated, a cheap laugh at the expense of someone with feelings and aspirations.

Prejudice comes in lots of flavours. I remember in the 60s (those were my undergraduate years at SFU and the time of the Beatles) that we were told that Vietnamese peasants don’t feel feelings like “we” do. If I remember correctly, this was an argument for escalating the bombing.

Chinese drivers, homosexual degeneracy, women’s emotionality, native drunkenness, “if you can’t do it, teach it” (this was laughingly said to a teacher friend of mine the other day), Jewish political insidiousness, why women can’t preach in the church – there are lots of ways of pre-judging people.

Prejudice serves the relational task of keeping a grouping of people at a distance, whether they are men (“we all know what they want”), or teenagers (“indulged and lazy”), the poor (“they are probably drunks”). Prejudice conserves time and energy – those prejudged become depersonalized “others” not worth the time and energy to find out what they think and believe and feel.

This is becoming a rant and perhaps this is the reason why. I was assumed to be a “religious fundamentalist” in a psychology journal I was reading a while back. It wasn’t only me the author was writing about, but people like me. But it wasn’t the me that my friends and clients know — it was a stylized “stick me,” without depth or texture. And if I was like the “stick me” that was so efficiently dismissed, I would have done the same.

To judge people who love God, devote their lives to worship, and offer their time and finances in service to others, as “fundamentalists” is, it seems to me, religious profiling. I say this about Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Sikhs and all others who endeavor to discern God.

The term “fundamentalist” has been used so casually in describing anyone who holds some sort of faith belief – be they a TV preacher, a Hasidic rabbi, a Mormon housewife, or a soldier of the Islamic Jihad – that the word has become hopelessly prejudicial. To call a worshipper a fundamentalist is the racial and social equivalent of calling a black Canadian a “nigger.”

Makes me sad to think about how often God-worshippers like me have pre-judged others.