Saving Lives

What the Bible Has to Say About Suicide

Depression is subtle. It has a way of sneaking up on you. You’re not quite sure when, how, or why it comes, but you can’t seem to get from under it. It’s more than sadness. More than disappointment. Depression is a shroud of darkness around you, even though the sun is shinning. It’s a thousand weighted blankets on top of you holding you captive to your thoughts. It’s quicksand. The moment you step in you feel trapped, and the more you move the deeper you sink.

Matt Adler, a successful attorney, husband, and father of two young children found himself sinking in the sands of depression. The winter of 2011 was plagued with great economic peril causing Matt great anxiety, sleepless nights, and reportedly, a “crumbling loss of self-esteem.” Seeking help from both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, his wife Dr. Jennifer Stuber, a public health expert at the University of Washington, recalls how “No one took the signs seriously. The psychiatrist seemed almost annoyed.”

Matt drove himself to a local gun shop. He’d never owned or fired a gun in his life. With no record of criminal or violent behavior, Matt passed the legal background check. A couple of hours later, Matt used that gun to kill himself. He was 40 years old.

The Morning News

On Tuesday, November 17th Roni Caryn Rabin’s article “‘How Did We Not Know?’ Gun Owners Confront a Suicide Epidemic” was published in The New York Times. Rabin reports how “according to national health statistics, 24,432 Americans used guns to kill themselves in 2018, up from 19,392 in 2010.” In fact, while statistics estimate that gun violence kills approximately 40,000 Americans, causing us to focus on issues like murder, mass shootings, and accidental deaths, Rabin writes that “these account for little more than one-third of the nation’s firearms fatalities. The majority of gun deaths are suicides — and just over half of suicides involve guns.”

While researchers are adamant about the fact that suicide attempts and completion have not increased during the pandemic, particularly in response to Jake Tapper’s recent error in tweeting an inaccurate report claiming “suicide figures are up 200% since lockdown, they do acknowledge that there has been an increase in the number of Americans reporting symptoms of depression. Julia Musto reports in an article for the New York Post that “Forty-seven percent of people with a household income of less than $20,000 and 41 percent of people with household savings under $5,000 said they had experienced symptoms of depression.” In addition, the FBI, according to NPR, reports of “a new record of 3.9 million background checks to purchase or possess firearms in June. That eclipsed the previous record set in March of 3.7 million background checks.”

With a steady rise in gun sales, coronavirus deaths, unemployment, and the disappointment around not seeing family for the holidays due to travel restrictions or death, we must be more aware of those around us struggling with suicide. Rabin reports of how researchers like Dr. Stuber and former Marine, gun owners like Brett Bass, are teaming up to save lives. Bass and Stuber believe that everything from gun retailers asking more questions of first-time gun buyers to gun owners putting locks on their firearms could give someone “enough time to maybe change [their] mind.”

What Does the Bible Say About Suicide?

After reading these news reports, the question that came to my mind is: what does the Bible have to say about suicide? Public Health researchers like Dr. Stuber and gun owners like Brett Bass are doing everything they can to disrupt the link between gun ownership and suicide. But, does the Bible have anything to say about it? Can the Bible help save a life contemplating suicide?

The Seven Suicides

There are seven accounts of suicide or attempted suicide in the Bible. The first is found in Judges 9:54 where Abimelech, after wounded by a woman who crushed his skull by dropping a millstone on his head, cried out saying, “draw your sword and kill me, or they’ll say about me, ‘a woman killed him.’” So, Abimelech’s armor-bearer killed him.

King Abimelech was not the only leader in the book of Judges that displayed suicidal thoughts. In Judges 16:21–31 we find the story of Israel’s strongest Judge Samson. After being deceived by Delilah, Samson is captured by the Philistines, they gouge out his eyes, bind him with bronze shackles, and force him to grind grain in prison. While worshiping their god Dagon, the Philistines bring Samson out to mock and taunt him. Standing between two pillars, Samson prays, “Lord, God, please remember me. Strengthen me, God, just once more. With one act of vengeance, let me pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” Pushing against the pillars of the temple Samson concludes declaring, “let me die with the Philistines.” And the judge dies with his oppressors.

In the heat of war, 1 Samuel 31:4-6 records how King Saul was losing to the Philistine army. So he turned to his armor-bearer and said, “draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised men will come and run me through and torture me!” The Bible says that Saul’s armor-bearer was too afraid to complete the request. So “Saul took his sword and fell on it.” After seeing that his leader was dead, the amor-bearer also fell on his sword killing himself.

In 2 Samuel 17:23 we read the story of Ahithophel, an advisor to King David’s son Absalom, who once Absalom rejected any more of his counsel “set his house in order” and hanged himself.

Even King Zimri, a man who was king for seven days in Tirzah, once realizing the Philistines would soon over power him, set his palace on fire with himself inside dying amidst the flames.

There is only one clear example of suicide in the New Testament found in Matthew 27:3–10. There, the writer shares the story of how Judas hanged himself over the immense grief and remorse felt for cooperating in Jesus’ execution.

Jonah’s Suicide Attempt

If you were counting, that’s only six stories. The last I’d like to draw your attention to is found in Jonah 1:11–15. In these verses we read about a prophet who God has given the command to go and preach to the people in Nineveh so that they may repent and turn away from their evil practices. Jonah refuses and flees to the city of Tarshish.

While on a ship to Tarshish God sends a storm on the sea with great winds that almost break the boat. Upon realizing that he is to blame for this great storm, Jonah asks the men to throw him overboard. Initially, the men refuse and simply keep trying to row to dry land. With no reprieve, the men prayed, “Lord, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For you, Lord, have done just as you pleased.” And they threw Jonah overboard.

Some Bible scholars count this story in Jonah as a suicide attempt. For example, Geoffrey Bromiley’s International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines suicide as “The taking of one’s own life, or causing it to be taken by another, regardless of motive, circumstances, or method used.” Based on this definition he cites the six examples I mentioned above, along with Jonah.

In the story of Jonah’s suicide attempt, though, what is encouraging for us to know is that God intervened and prevented the completion of Jonah’s attempt. In fact, the Bible says in Jonah 1:17, “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” In other words, Jonah attempted to reject God’s will for his life either by detour or death. But Jonah’s suicide attempt did not anger God. Instead, it caused God to step in and save him.

Live For God

I believe God saved Jonah because in the Bible we learn that God does not desire His followers to die for Him. On the contrary, He wants them to live for Him. Paul writes in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.” During the time of antiquity many of the cultural religions taught that the gods required a blood sacrifice. So, many sacrificed women, children, anyone deemed necessary killing them on an altar as a sacrifice to the gods. Paul is countering this by declaring that the God who made the Heavens and the Earth, He does not require a blood sacrifice. He is not wanting you to die for Him. He actually wants you to live for Him.

It is in living for God that your life is a daily act of sacrifice and worship. In this sense, suicidal ideation and even suicidal attempts do not anger God. What God sees is someone who is overwhelmed like Jonah; someone who is filled with guilt like Judas; someone who is overcome with fear like Saul; even someone who is overcome by purpose like Samson. And when God sees this in us He is not angered He is moved to compassion.

In the story of Jonah we see God send a big fish to save Jonah, but in the story of Jesus we see God Himself walking amongst humanity seeking to heal and restore. See, when God sees broken people, He seeks to save. When God sees broken people, He seeks to restore. When God sees broken people, He seeks to make them whole. God wants to save and heal you so that you have the strength and courage to live for Him. That is God’s response to suicide.

The Takeaway

And so no matter what is going on in the world. No matter what has you feeling overwhelmed, afraid, filled with guilt, grief, or worthlessness, know that God desires nothing more than that you live and as Jesus says in John 10:10 “have life more abundantly.” Please don’t take your life. Know that there is a God in Heaven who loves you in all of your uniqueness. He believes that the greatest gift you could ever give Him is to live and live more abundantly.

*If you or someone who know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, depression, or anxiety encourage them to get the help they need. Be with them. Talk with them. Love them. Recommend a counselor. And always share the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, where a counselor is available 24/7 to help: 800–273–8255. Also check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to learn more about how you can help save a life. Click here for the link.

#WhatsTheMessage EP 025: Entanglement & Toxic Femininity

In this episode Carmela and Claudia welcome Amelia Flynn, Marriage and Family Therapist and PhD student at Antioch University New England. She specializes in father-daughter relationships, and as a clinician engages in premarital counseling, multiracial relationships and families, and African American familial dynamics. Amelia joins us on #WhatsTheMessage to discuss Jada Pinkett, Will Smith, and August Alsina’s “entanglement,” whether or not Jada is a predator, and so much more. This is an episode you do not want to miss.
Make sure you follow Amelia Flynn on Instagram @amelia.flynn424
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#WhatsTheMessage EP 017: The Last Dance

In this episode Carmela and Claudia welcome Pastor Cryston Josiah, Vice President for Administration at Central States Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and Pastor Richard Martin, Senior Pastor of New Life SDA Church. This is a fun and light-hearted episode where Carmela and Claudia talk with Cryston and Richard about Netflix and ESPN’s latest documentary series, “The Last Dance.” Check out this episode to hear them discuss the leadership, personal, and mental health lessons from the documentary.

Pastor Cryston Josiah would like to invite you to his Midweek Worship experience every Wednesday. So make sure to join him on Facebook Live.

Follow Pastor Richard Martin on Instagram and Twitter @pastah_martin

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Alone Together

An Introvert’s Tips on Surviving Social Distancing

My dreams have come true! Never did I imagine that this day would come. Due to the increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 43 states and the District of Columbia have issued stay-at-home orders. States like California and New York have cancelled everything requesting everyone to stay inside! No gatherings of more than 10 people. Stay six feet away from everyone. No school, crowded volleyball tournaments, or 10-hour Sunday soccer games. No parties, no play dates, no awkward small talk with strangers. Introducing (drum roll please) Social distancing!! An introvert’s dream, but an extrovert’s nightmare.

An Introvert’s Reaction to Social Distancing

Three days into this dream, I came home from work and my 11-year-old met me in the garage. He was like a puppy eager to get off his leash. Stuck in the house all day he practically leapt into my arms begging, “mommy can I go to the park and play with my friends?” Still wrapping his head around social distancing, he didn’t understand that kids were not allowed to play at the playgrounds anymore. “No son. We can’t go!” His response caused my heart to break into pieces. Big, voluptuous tears streamed down his cheeks. He ached to hang out with his buddies.

What alarmed me was that he was my most introverted child. After four days on lockdown, with eight weeks to go, it was getting hard for everyone. Introverts, extroverts, children, adults, teachers, health care workers, preachers and grocery store clerks. From the left to the right the east to the west…the struggle was getting real.

While this is challenging for all, it’s no secret that introverts have the upper hand when it comes to surviving social distancing. While extroverts thrive on social connection, introverts have always thrived in solitude. So if you don’t mind, as an introvert myself, I’d like to share with you a few tips on how to maximize, or at least survive this time that we are apart.

1. Take Advantage of the Time

Every introvert knows that times of solitude are rare. Ten minutes between soccer practices, weekend trips out of town, they all come to an end long before we’re ready. But the truth is we’re never really ready.

That being said, we know the importance of taking advantage of this time. There are things you can do now that you can’t do when the world picks up speed again. There are things you can accomplish now that you’ve been trying to accomplish for weeks, months, or years, but could never seem to find the time. Do those things now!

I usually wish I had more time to rest and restore my body and my mind. So rest, is my priority. I sleep longer for physical rest, journal more for emotional rest, pray more for spiritual rest, and play more for social rest. I sit in the sun with my kids, enjoy lazy Sunday afternoons, read my favorite book, and sip a cup of tea.

Rest is hard to come by in the normal pace of life. For as long or short as this time may be, resting is what I do. What will you do? Whatever you do, make sure you take advantage of the time, it will be over before you know it.

2. Re-evaluate Your Life

When we stop moving at breakneck speed we can re-evaluate our lives. Busyness is a great way to cover up the cracks in the floor. When my life slowed down I became aware that most of what I do is for the purpose of pleasing others. I spent little or no time pouring into any of my own interests or hobbies. I started to wonder if the reason for my chronic exhaustion was not because of doing too much, but because of doing too little of what made my heart happy.

While I am taking to re-evaluating my life, others are re-evaluating their marriages. According to an article in The New Yorker  entitled, “To Have and to Hold, in Quarantine and in Health,” when quarantine restrictions were lifted across the country of China the divorce rate spiked. Lawrence Birnbach, a psychoanalyst who wrote the book How to Know if It’s Time to Go, predicts that as the pandemic subsides in the U.S. we too will see an increase in the divorce rate. Laura Wasser, a Los Angeles divorce attorney, says, “A quarantine experience, particularly where there are underlying issues of resentment and poor communication, could be devastating to a marital relationship.”

I believe this is due in part to the fact that when life slows down, husbands and wives may realize that, without a busy after school schedule, they have nothing else to talk about. This time is giving us the opportunity to re-evaluate our familial and marital relationships. Now, you can see the cracks in the kitchen tiles and the chipped paint on the bedroom walls. They were always there, but you sped right by them. I encourage you to use this time to find to the cracks, the holes, the ignored issues, and give them attention.

3. Think Creatively

This time has also made the majority of our traditional gathering practices out of reach. Physical school buildings, church buildings, soccer complexes, workout facilities, and malls are off limits. But people still need to be educated. People still need to worship. They still need sports. People still need to be fit. They still need to shop. In the void, the creatives should rise. If ever there was a time to think outside the box, it’s now, because we desperately need a way to connect.

I’m immensely inspired by mom’s who turn living rooms into classrooms to make sure their kids graduate. Pastors who have crafted sanctuaries through cameras to bring hope to people trapped at home. Children creating driveway chalk art to encourage families as they walk by. Trainers sculpting online workouts with couch cushions and water jugs to help people stay fit. Designers promoting clothing lines to keep people dressed to the nines. The absence of our traditional gathering places has paved the way for creatives not to give up, but to innovate.

It’s quite possible that these creative innovations will not only help us survive our current situation, but stay with us as part of our new normal.

Lessons From Being Alone Together

This is a stressful time for all of us. No one could have predicted that we would be facing these hardships today. Most of us were expecting to be celebrating weddings, going to concerts, planning tropical cruises, walking for graduation, and playing championship basketball games. Instead, we are doing none of those things. We are at home. Alone. But be encouraged. For we are alone, together.

One day all of this will come to an end and life will return to the way we’ve always known it. In the meantime, we can learn from introverts, the experts in social distancing, to take advantage of this time, reevaluate our lives, as well as use this time to think and produce creatively.

It’s All Grief: COVID-19 and Layers of Loss

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has hit the globe like a whirlwind. The impact of the novel illness is not only affecting people physically, but it’s bringing up numerous mental and social issues as governments, communities, and individuals try to cope with the far reaching toll of the virus. Large cities such as New York and Los Angeles have their residents sheltering in place, and people all over the country are encouraged to physically distance themselves in order to decrease the spread of the virus. School buildings have closed with classrooms moving to virtual platforms, and over 10 million Americans are unemployed. And to top it all off, hospitals are immensely overwhelmed with an increased need for personnel, resources, and equipment for critically ill patients.

Grief on a Spectrum

There are almost no words to describe the many losses taking place during this moment in time. Grief in its simplest definition is a reaction to a loss, death related or non-death related. It is felt daily and for many people, grief adds up and multiplies rapidly as environments, routines and social structures change. And while COVID-19 ravages our world, many are feeling grief for a variety of reasons. What is important to say here is that there should be no shame in talking about the various experiences individuals, young and old, are having during this time.

Throughout news and social media outlets we are bombarded with grief. Politicians, journalists, and healthcare workers are displaying their genuine feelings as they work tirelessly to help the sick and keep the public informed. Daily, we hear and see families and friends mourning the deaths of loved ones they were not able to see in hospitals, nursing homes, and penitentiaries. Financial burdens swamp households as many are forced to stay home unpaid. And the constant changes the virus is bringing physically, emotionally, and financially are presenting an ever widening spectrum of grief. What we must be careful of during this time is not to allow ourselves to put loss on a hierarchy validating some losses to the neglect of others.

Somewhere guardians are frazzled because children with special needs have had their schedules interrupted, a couple’s birth plan is disrupted, a senior student has several milestone events unexpectedly cancelled and an individual with few social connections feels isolated and alone. And more issues still arise. Like the grief of losing purpose when there is no longer a place of work to travel to, the grief of missing self-care activities like hair appointments, the grief of losing feelings of safety and security all in a time where the unknown looms. But we must remember that all grief matters.

What Grief Looks Like

In many ways, the various griefs caused by COVID- 19 parallel what grievers have been saying for years about the deaths of special persons. There is no sense of control and people who feel out of control express their grief in many ways. Cognitively there can be a loss of concentration, forgetting of tasks, many idle hours scanning the internet not retaining much information, and a need for technological screen time to escape. Physically there can be more headaches, uneasiness in the pits of stomachs, and increased anxiety which can manifest physically and cognitively. Emotionally, feelings of anger, frustration, and fear may present as new challenges arise.

For many, less talked about feelings develop, like guilt. Some have the privilege of being able to continue working while others cannot, and some are able to retreat to homes that they consider safe spaces in contrast with others who must stay in spaces where they are abused or battered. There are individuals who feel the grief of no choice, as they risk unsafe conditions at work versus risking financial stability. Furthermore, many feel inadequate and less productive as they struggle to keep up with daily changes and stressors. This is what makes grief layered and complicated. It’s possible to experience one and numerous manifestations of grief all at once. Loss may also be compounded as individuals find their regular mechanisms of coping inaccessible or not comforting while trying to meet the various new challenges of the day.

New Normal

Amidst all these aspects of grief lies another core experience and question for many grievers, particularly those of death related loss: will my life ever be ‘normal’ again? For grievers the answer is often no as they begin their journey to find what the new normal will be. Although anticipative that cases of COVID-19 will decline and that the virus will be further studied and cured, scientists and doctors predict that the worst is still ahead of us. With much more death and loss still to come it can be argued that this pandemic will leave a lasting imprint in the American psyche.

Loyola Medicine employees have a daily prayer over a basket of messages reflecting the hopes of patients at Loyola University Medical Center at the chapel in Maywood on March 31, 2020. Sister Xiomara Mendez-Hernandez, from left, COVID-19 unit nurse Tiffany Fulton and chaplain Robert Andorka. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

As we continue to experience loss we will forever reflect on how these changes have transformed our individual lives and our communities. Over the last few weeks we have certainly seen a surge in compassion as people band together to offer one another support. And the ingenuity around virtual weddings and funerals, phoning in loved ones at hospitals, and the many other ways people have created to connect have bonded the human family as we all try to navigate grief nationally and globally. Just this week, The Chicago Tribune reported of hospital chaplains praying over notes from patients, and using creative means to make sure that “no one dies alone.”

As new normals are created there is often the need to find meaning in one’s situation. The truth is, for some, the whys of grief may always outweigh any answers received. What’s important to accept is that it is ok to recognize and name the losses that are impacting your own life. For a moment, forget comparing your loss to that of others and just let yourself be and feel. In many ways we are all grieving. In these times let’s support one another. Instead of analyzing and creating hierarchies of loss, let’s focus on how to stay connected and validate each other in the most vulnerable parts of our personal experiences. It’s all grief.

#WhatsTheMessage EP 009: The Psychological Effects of a Pandemic

In this episode, Carmela and Claudia welcome psycho-therapist Shivon Massenburg to discuss some of the positive and negative affects this pandemic is having on so many of us. They discuss best practices during qurantine, how you can connect your psychological coping mechanisms with your spiritual practices, and even provide resources for those struggling with anxiety, depression, OCD, or those who are quarantined in abusive and unsafe environments. This is an amazing and important episode that you do not want to miss!
Check out the article they mentioned entitled “Pandemic Spending” by Ruthven Philip by clicking on this link:
Here are some of the mental health resources Shivon Massenburg mentioned:
Crisis Text Line:
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
Domestic Violence Helpline:
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
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The Trauma in My Veins: Transgenerational Trauma And the Need for Black History Month

“How frightening is the past that awaits us.”

Antonin Slonimski

Few questions spark critical self-analysis like the question: What happened to you?  Depending on variables such as voice inflection, the trust relationship one has with the inquisitor, or the self-image one is projecting at the time, this question can cause a myriad of responses ranging from critical-offense to critical-affirmation. However, no matter the asker’s motivations, we are certain of one thing: the question seeks to draw a comparison between our current selves and a past version of ourselves.

We might have lost weight (or gained weight). We might have come into a new wardrobe (or taken on a more ragged garb due to tough circumstances). We might have experienced a personality breakthrough and become more vibrant and magnetic (or become less available and more reserved due to the harsh realities of life-lessons). Whether the question is attempting to raise our awareness to a perceived progression or digression, the pop-quiz  will call us to muster our cognitive energy to compare ourselves to ourselves, and give a rational explanation that satisfies the investigator’s contrast to who they remember us being.

Yes, most of us take this question quite personally and rightfully so! We hear it and begin thinking about ourselves as an individual unit who has experienced life singularly and has made decisions based upon our own desires, convictions, and values. To an extent, this is true—owning our actions is a key part of our maturation process. Taking responsibility for your day-to-day activity and accepting the outcomes of those decisions is a foundational growth-step for anyone seeking to establish a healthy independence.

The Roots of My Reactions

With this being conceded, it is important for us to also see our daily activity as an interconnected system of expressions that include more than our individuality or personal philosophy.  We are, in fact, acting out the lives of our ancestors. We are making decisions, albeit unconsciously, that our progenitors made. We are playing a role based upon a pre-written script. As an actor or actress must take ownership of the roles they decide to play, so we too must also fight the temptation to relinquish responsibility for the characters we assume.

But here is where the acting metaphor falls short in accurately depicting how we are psychologically impacted by the lives of those who have gone before us. This psychological script is not primarily adopted consciously. Instead, it is accepted subconsciously and can only be realized through intentional psychotherapy. For example, scripts like race-based trauma have been written for twenty generations and have found willing actors and actresses, throughout our family lines, to perpetuate the retelling of its plotline. This is an example of a transgenerational script, a subconscious legacy of wounds, victories, failures, and triumphs (Welford, 2019). Most of us are unaware of our transgenerational scripts. Therefore, we are grossly unaware of how these scripts are playing out on the stage of our daily choices.

So when you hear the question, “What happened to you?”, you might want to start considering more than your weight fluctuations or the new job you landed or the new friend circle you have developed. It might serve you well to consider the ancestral story of unresolved trauma that continues to play out in your life largely unbeknownst to you. Or in the words of Dr. Noriega Gayol (2019), “When our ancestors die, they also become the soil that nourishes the roots of our family tree. This is a common energy field that remains in the tree or family through future generations” (p. 279).

Transgenerational Trauma

The unearthing of your transgenerational script begins with you understanding how trauma has impacted (and consequently shaped) your family history (Welford, 2019). And so, we find the familiar African axiom —You must know where you’ve been to know where you’re going — to have more merit than we might have previously believed. We are acting out the hurts, concerns, fears, and abuses experienced by our ancestors, and we cannot fully understand our current trajectory until we come to terms with the previous wounds suffered by our predecessors. This transgenerational script is so accurate that French Psychologist, Ann Schutzenberger (1998), welcomes us to realize ancestral trauma as a phenomenon that tends to play-out in our lives at the very age or on the very date of the originating trauma. She calls this the “anniversary syndrome” (p. 66).

How frustrating it must be to continually manage trauma responses that are not just based in our own experiences but are greatly based in the experiences of our ancestors! Enid Welford (2019) comments further, “Where trauma belonging to ancestors is concerned, we need to be alert to such trauma reactions emerging in their descendants and know how to support clients in completing the natural healing response to trauma” (p. 326). With this in mind, the question, “What happened to you?” merits some reconsideration and editing. Maybe we should all be asking a different question.  Maybe we should all be empathetically asking, “What happened to your ancestors that’s still happening to you?”

A Month for Revising Scripts

As we continue to deal with the prevalent post-racial narrative of our time, understanding how transgenerational scripts play-out today might help us better appreciate moments where we give particular attention to the lives our ancestors have lived. Our daily activity is sprouting out of the same soil (transgenerational script) that nurtured the growth of family members who predate us by hundreds of years. “Human beings are like trees: Both have roots, trunks, branches, and leaves and are connected to a family system and to Mother Earth by our [ancestral] roots” (Gayol, 2019, p. 280). Therefore, understanding or adjusting our individual behavior cannot be holistically undertaken unless we understand said behavior in the context of our transgenerational script.

Our DNA carries the memory of past, ancestral traumas. The field of epigenetics has confirmed what we all have felt, but few of us have ventured to articulate: We respond to the traumas suffered by ancestors as if we lived when they lived and experienced what they experienced.  To put it more simply, we live out responses to stimuli that we cannot fully understand, and we cannot gain the necessary understanding until we are reconnected with “What Happened?”  in our family tree (Dias & Kessler, 2014). Because we are all the product of family, we all carry within our veins the collective history of our ancestors. And if we all carry these memories in our veins, most of us are unconsciously (and a very small percentage of us consciously) acting out the script that accompanies these memories.

Black History Month is an opportunity for the African descendants of slaves to revisit the trauma that still impacts our bodies, our souls, and our spirits. As we reverently rehearse the stories of our families—the stories of resilience and traumatization—we equip our own psyches with much needed information. The transgenerational trauma that flows through our veins can only be addressed as we move these subconscious scripts from the background to the foreground of our self-awareness.  From this awakened state, we have a chance to begin healing centuries of unresolved trauma.

Enid Welford (2019) concludes, “Clients who recognize that they have been unconsciously repeating experiences of ancestors have a chance to change the family narrative” (p. 328). So while many advocate for us to move past our traumatic history, I have accepted the ancient invitation to truly remember—to reconnect with my ancestry, to reexamine my transgenerational script. And I believe moments like Black History Month remind us of how important remembering the past is if we aspire to heal the future.

Recovering From Overwhelming Grief

A friend of mine drives a technologically advanced car. Recently, she told me about experiencing car trouble. While driving she rolled over a nail and punctured one of her tires. However, one of the features of her technologically advanced car is that it alerts her when air pressure is depleting from her tires. Thanks to this new feature it did not take long for her to notice a problem existed.

Before upgrading her car, she had a similar experience. Rolling over a nail and driving with tire pressure depleting, her older car lacked the ability to alert her of what happened. As a result, she continued to drive her car like nothing was wrong. Things were seemingly ok until she experienced a massive blowout! Thank God for technologically advanced cars!

Grief Without Signals

If the truth were told, most of us operate like the older car instead of the technologically advanced car when experiencing grief. It is not that we do not know that grief exists, but sometimes it is complicated identifying the signals that show up in our lives emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We are routinely hit with some of life’s biggest punctures, but oftentimes we are completely unaware of its devastating effects. Unfortunately, many of us do not notice we’ve been punctured until we experience a massive blow out.

Grief Triggers

Grief is defined as the emotional process of reacting to affliction or loss. According to Swiss-American Psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kūbler-Ross, people experience the five stages of grief in this order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In our sinful world, everyone inevitably experiences grief in some form or fashion. The most common way of experiencing grief is in the death of a loved one. However there are many other ways that people experience grief. Some experience grief over:

  • Divorce, or the end of a relationship
  • Oneset of a chronic or terminal disease
  • Job loss
  • Delivering a child with a birth defect
  • Disability from an illness or severe accident
  • Loss of independence
  • Surviving an act of violence or natural disaster
  • Discovering your child/teen has a learning disability, behavior problem, or is abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Having a miscarriage or still birth

Grief Alerts

Having a theoretical understanding of grief is often not enough to move people to action. In fact, no clear knowledge of what is causing the grieving process is what causes the most damage. It is when we are not aware that various experiences in life have punctured us that we begin to experience emotional, physical, and spiritual depletion. And grief left unchecked slowly, but surely leads to deterioration. But there are some grief alerts that can let us know something has punctured us and we are depleting:

  • Crying
  • Headaches
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Insomnia
  • Questioning your belief in God
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite

Any one of the above mentioned systems are overwhelming to carry. A collection of them are destructive, and often indicative of a greater issue. Leaving our grief triggers unresolved and our grief alerts ignored leads to mental and/or emotional illness along with a host of other medical conditions. The good news is that this does not have to be our reality. We don’t have to continue limping through life with a nail in our tire.

Paul’s Grief Recovery Program

As believers in Jesus Christ we have an advantage working in our favor. That advantage is the Word of God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” In these verses the Apostle Paul offers us two powerful principles concerning grief. The first, and most important principle, is that God is able and willing to comfort us in our grief. He is patient, compassionate, and gentle in how he comforts us in times of need. What better example is there of how to support others than in the example God shows us Himself?

God does not put a timetable on our grief. He does not dictate how we should feel. In His compassion He comforts us until we are once again able to stand on our own two feet. However, there is another piece to this puzzle. The second principle to Paul’s grief recovery program is that God comforts us so that we can comfort others. In other words, one of the best antidotes to grief is community. When we have people who sit with us, pray with us, cry with us, talk things through with us, and simply bless us with their silent presence those grieving experience a powerful healing and restoration. And after you’ve reached the other side of your healing you now can be to someone else what others were to you in your time of need.

Seek A Grief and Loss Professional

Additionally, consulting a grief and loss professional can be beneficial during the recovery process. The good Lord in all of His grace and mercy has equipped individuals with the necessary skills and expertise to treat mental and emotional illness in our communities. There is no shame associated with asking for help. The good news is that God is in the business of figuratively removing life’s nails from our tires and help us manage the wounds that from the puncture.

Grief does not have the final say, God does! 

There is life after grief, but it requires intentional and consistent work. But what’s great is that God has the ability to console, reassure, and even deliver us out of our grief.

Coping With Dysfunctional Families

In the 5th grade I won the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) essay contest. I don’t remember what my paper was about or what made it compelling enough to receive an award. But I do remember the award ceremony. What I remember most is seeing my family in the audience, sitting together cheering me on. I also remember the subsequent family pizza night. All of us sitting together laughing and enjoying each others company over extra cheese pizza with my favorite accessory, Doritos tortilla chips. That moment is one that will forever be etched into my memory.

Shortly after, I graduated 5th grade and we had another family pizza party. It became a family tradition I looked forward to with every academic milestone. In fact, these dinners fueled every single academic accomplishment I’ve achieved even into adulthood. At some point, I learned that I could keep my family unified and “happy” with my academic success. And so, I tried with every fiber of my being to accomplish every possible academic award that was available to me. So I graduated with honors, academic achievement awards, perfect attendance awards, honor society awards, and more.

It’s My Fault: A Child’s Perception of Familial Dysfunction

Fast forward 19 years later after moving away. After earning my master’s degree I decided to take a break from school. One year later, my parents separated and I watched the family that I worked so hard to keep together begin to crumble. I was convinced that this was all happening because of my decision to take a break from the one thing that was keeping my family together, my ongoing academic success.

If you’re thinking, “that’s insane!” You are absolutely right. That’s the issue with family dysfunction, it creates an unbalanced dynamic that results in a confusion of roles, and boundaries. It produces a toxicity that undermines our capacity to individuate. Once this dynamic is established, it takes intentionality to see and understand things differently. Many of us are aware of the dysfunction that exists in our families and are looking for ways to cope. And although we can’t change our families, we do have a responsibility to work on ourselves. The following suggestions have been personally helpful and can hopefully be just as helpful for you.

Deal With Your Own Dysfunction

The first step to effectively coping with the dysfunction in your family is to deal with it. It is impossible to walk away from family dysfunction unaffected.

We are connected to people in our family history whose unresolved traumas have become our legacy. When the connection remains unconscious, we can live imprisoned in feelings and sensations that belong to the past.”

Mark Wolynn, Founder of the Family Constellation Institute.

Our ability to individuate and raise our level of consciousness is largely dependent upon our ability to makes sense of the dysfunction. While some choose to avoid and disassociate from their family unit entirely, this is not a solution. This will only temporarily table an underlying issue that will inevitably resurface (as triggers always do). Having some level of awareness of the dysfunction does not make us immune to its influence.

You Are Your Responsibility

Although we are not responsible for the dysfunction that we inherit, we are responsible for how we deal with it. Making sense of the dysfunction begins with self-exploration. And by practicing and developing new patterns of behavior we can change the negative thoughts and behaviors from our past. This is not something that we should expect to do by ourselves. The dysfunction created was a collective effort. And so your healing process should be just as collaborative. The good news is mental health professionals are passionate about and enjoy helping people like you and me process their past.

An additional underutilized resource is group therapy, also known as a support group. Group therapy provides a space for you to connect with other individuals facing similar issues. Inevitably, you begin to connect with group members (consciously and unconsciously) as if they were members of your original family unit. This creates opportunity to correctly relive familial conflicts. This is important because re-exposure to familial issues has the potential to repair existing wounds.

Forgive Your Parents

But the reality is that often, much of our familial dysfunction is attached to our parents. This is because the parental relationship is the most influential relationship we will ever have. It determines how we see ourselves and how we interact with others. And how we deal with the dysfunction in this relationship determines how we engage with society. In other words, coping with familial dysfunction oftentimes means forgiving our parents, especially when they don’t ask for forgiveness.

According to Oprah Winfrey’s article “Forgiving your parents,” unresolved issues with our parents impedes our ability to form healthy relationships with others. The anger and resentment that we hold onto is infectious and spreads into the new relationships that we form. But the truth is:

“Our parents cannot be expunged or ejected from us. They are in us and we are part of them-even if we never met them. Rejecting them only distances us further from ourselves and creates more suffering.”

Mark Wolynn,  It Didn’t Start With You

Effectively coping with the dysfunction in our families begins with healing from those childhood wounds through the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness begins with self-understanding which also involves understanding the family history underlying the dysfunction. It is through this process of understanding that forgiveness can occur. Forgiveness heals the wounds created by the dysfunction and allows us to objectively analyze the cause of our familial hurt. Once we identify and acknowledge our familial hurt we can make the changes necessary to keep it from happening again.

Protect Your Emotional Health

Ultimately, when coping with family dysfunction protecting your emotional health is crucial. This requires two things: practicing self-awareness and creating boundaries. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine writes in his book The Body Keeps Score:

“We don’t truly know ourselves unless we feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life.”

The key to understanding how to protect your emotional well being resides in your ability to be present. Taking a moment to check in with yourself (particularly when interacting with family) is an appropriate practice of self-awareness. Developing self awareness gives us the information that we need to create healthy boundaries.

On Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday Brené Brown, PhD, explains that “there is no trust without boundaries.” This is because it is with appropriate boundaries that we can begin to trust ourselves and become brave enough to build relationships trusting that others will engage with us with our boundaries in mind. Family members will continue to engage in dysfunctional behaviors. The onus is on you to protect yourself by staying true to the limits and boundaries you’ve set.

Facing the Facts

Facing the realities of the dysfunction that existed in my family was the most difficult thing that I’ve ever had to do. I still have to remind myself to be present. Even so, I wouldn’t change any of it. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. The “A” student, the overachiever, these experiences taught me how to leverage the dysfunction of past and turn it into the success of my future. I encourage everyone to learn this same lesson because how we deal with our dysfunction determines how we heal. And the fact of the matter is, how we heal influences the next generation’s ability to do the same. Choose wisely.

My Struggle With Mental Health

These Are My Confessions

I am a pastor, husband, father, and a writer. I love Jesus and I am excited about what He is doing through me and in me. Yet, there are two issues that I have dealt with my whole life: ADD and anxiety. I became aware of them pretty early on in life. The anxiety manifested itself in two ways, especially:
  1. Public speaking
  2. Dark, lonely places
I’ve always said God has a sense of humor because he called me to be a pastor: a job that requires a lot of public speaking and also a lot of traveling and staying in dark places alone. And truthfully I must confess, traveling was very difficult for me for the longest time. The anxiety got so bad that I couldn’t fall asleep. And I will never forget how my anxiety took over when I preached my first sermon. I was so overwhelmed that even though I had 10 pages of written material I only spoke for 5 minutes. My girlfriend at the time was so unimpressed with my sermon she broke up with me soon after.

You Are Not Alone

The reason I’m sharing my experience is because I find so many leaders and members alike struggle with mental health issues. And to make matters worse they’re getting terrible counsel. Unfortunately, many of us are dealing with everything from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) by ourselves. Anyone facing these issues alone knows that isolation only exasperates the problem.

Get Counseling

You know what helped me? Counseling helped. At some point we have to be honest and admit that sometimes you can’t just pray depression away, or anxiety, or _______________ (fill your mental health challenge here). “Pray harder” may not be the best solution.
In fact, when you pray and the problem continues it can create a false sense of guilt and shame. Many begin to believe that either God doesn’t want to heal them, or that they don’t deserve to be healed. And neither of these things are true. The fact of the matter is, mental health issues are not exclusively spiritual issues. They are illnesses that require medical attention in the same way a broken arm or a heart attack requires a physician. So if you’re struggling with mental health go see a counselor.

Prayer Really Works

But in addition to the counseling, prayer really did help a lot. There is a calming effect to prayer. This calming effect is really why I believe talking to God is such a blessing. I can truly say that through prayer i’ve experienced the promise of Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Work With the Weight

I also found that doing my job regardless of how I felt helped. In spite of the anxiety, I continue to speak and travel. I’ve taken God’s instruction to Joshua to “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). It’s verses like these that teach me to trust in God’s calling more than in my issues.

Talk Through It

And finally, I learned that talking to people also helped. Because there is a stigma attached to mental health issues it is oftentimes hard to open up. But when we share our stories with others it allows people to feel comfortable saying “that is my story too!” Vulnerability breeds community.
I want to invite you to seek help. The Father says, you are worthy. Jesus says, you are loved. And the Spirit say, you are special.