Saturday, August 25, 2012

Help for Eroding Self Esteem

                                  Just as soil erosion is wearing away of the land,                                        
emotional erosion is the wearing away
of your true self. 

Emotional erosion

Just as a forest fire can lead to erosion of soil, the fire of harsh words, negative comments or repeated rejection can begin to wear away at your self esteem.

It often begins in childhood; even as a child’s image of herself is being formed it is also being torn down. Parents are supposed to protect, provide for, and praise children, guiding and helping them grow into healthy, whole adults. But when a child is put down, belittled, and constantly criticized—wounded with words— she doesn’t feel safe, accepted or wanted. If she is continually ignored or abandoned, even by parents who are physically present but emotionally unavailable, she may feel depleted at an early age.
Void of the nutrients of love, care and consistency children need most, this little girl may have no idea how valuable and precious she really is.

Over the years the landscape of her heart begins to change. The constant dripping of another’s anger, ridicule, or living unnoticed begins to form a rut, then a gully and the wearing away of self esteem continues. As an adult she feels hollow, disconnected and she may have tendencies toward perfectionism, people pleasing or depression.

She never feels like she is “enough,” good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough or whatever enough for anyone to love her consistently and well. Guys come and go, and breakup after breakup over the years reinforces her feelings of being unloved, unworthy or less than. Hope withers and self esteems sags.
Like the pinkish-purple ice plants that close up at night, a wounded woman hides her beauty and her true self.

We need God’s better-than-20/20-vision to gain a clearer vision of who we really are, to come out of hiding, to be courageous, and to see ourselves as He sees us.
Rebuilding self esteem
How do you stop the “wearing away” of emotional erosion? How do you rebuild self esteem and restore confidence?
Plant seeds of truth. The seeds of truth come from reading and hearing God’s word, planting them in your heart and applying them to your life. In time there is growth, heart hedges holding your life in place—rooted and established.  A key verse in Ephesians explains:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19, emphasis mine)
Rooted in God’s love and what He says about you, you can stand firm when you feel like your self worth is being washed away by the strong winds of someone else’s unkindness or how your hair turned out that day.
Whether you were raised in a family that helped you to be rooted and established in a loving environment or not, God can heal the hurt from your past. Established in love means your self esteem is grounded God and you begin to grasp God’s incredible love for you.

So often we want to hide the broken and less-than-perfect parts of our selves. Yet as we come to realize that Christ loves us in the middle of our mess, that startling love helps us to accept both our strengths and weaknesses, both the dark and light, and our self image becomes less broken and more whole. 
A healthy view of yourself is balanced. A woman with a healthy self-esteem respects herself. She feels secure and worthwhile because of what God says about her. She has confidence in relationships and in life and generally more joy. She knows she has significance; she matters. With her sense of worth and value intact, she sits up straight and walks tall. Her head up, this confident woman is friendly, gentle and kind. She makes eye contact when she speaks, and she doesn’t constantly apologize for everything she says or does.
The light of Christ brings illumination. Once you’ve discovered your true identity, who you are in God’s eyes, and choose to live in that truth you will begin to see yourself in a whole new light.
When your identity is rooted and ground in what God says about you, your self esteem is more solid. You are better able to handle success or failure, deal with change, make decisions, and move forward to give and receive real and lasting love.
(Adapted from "When Love End and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty" by Jackie M. Johnson, Moody Publishers).

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunflowers and Finding New Hope

Photo: Dave Frahm

Dormant Dreams

                         Desires and dreams encased in a seed,

                           Released in the black earth of faith.

                             Time to let go of what I think I need,

                               And hold on to the hope of His grace.

                         Longingly gazing at empty brown dirt,

                           Can’t make your dreams grow any faster.

                             For the seed in the soil is dormant, not dead.

                               Look up, to the face of the Master.

                         Call out for courage, have patience, have faith!

                           A mystery’s unveiling, my friend.

                             For a small, simple seed can yield sunflower gold.

                               Surely, this isn’t the end.

                         In the fullness of time, resurrection.

                           The earth births a tender young shoot.

                             Nurtured and tended with strong, loving hands

                               The flower grows deep, solid roots.

                         And the seedling unfolds to a blossom,

                           Pure artistry formed in the dark.

                             In His perfect timing the Harvester brings

                                Fruition to desires of the heart.

                                               -- Jackie M. Johnson

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Awakening Hope After a Breakup: Dealing with Roadblocks

            Roadblocks to hope

Walking with hope is not like being in a Disney cartoon where bluebirds carrying colorful ribbons lead the way and happy chipmunks wave as you skip down the lane and daisies bloom instantly at your feet.

As you walk down Hope Road, you may have obstacles or roadblocks ahead. You may not be able to see the way ahead or you may feel lost. What are some things that can block hope?

Not knowing the difference between false hope and true hope. After a relationship ends, you may hope the one you cared about will come back. “False hope” is when you expect him to return when it’s highly unlikely or even impossible that he will. Because you want it to happen so badly, you may deny the reality that he is already in another relationship, that he’s married, or that—for whatever reason—he is going in another direction without you. You can, however, be optimistic that things will get better in your life and that God has good things for you down the road.

Romance novels or movies can also lead to a sense of false hope. While I enjoy watching a good romantic comedy once in a while, we need to remember to enjoy the show for the purpose of entertainment not for the reality factor.

In the movies, the leading couple often seems super-magnetically drawn to each other; they inescapably must be together, because they are “soul mates.”  Each is the only one who will ever satisfy the other. With this particular person, life is bliss; without them, life is bankrupt. The guy pursues intensely and despite an inordinate amount of obstacles, he eventually gets the girl and they live happily ever after. Or so we are led to believe. The credits roll and you never see the rest of the story. Now what?

In real life couples have everyday struggles that go along with being in a dating relationship or marriage. In real life men don’t always pursue, they can evade asking you our or avoid a real commitment for years. Also, many women have expectations that a man will know exactly what to say and do to make their heart melt, and when he does not they are baffled. The thing is, in real life men don’t have a script to follow!

Keep in mind that you are wired with a longing for love; it is good to want to be pursued and to desire someone with whom you can spend the rest of your life. While your heart may ache to be the leading lady in your favorite chick flick, God wants to author a love story for you that is genuine and godly—and that is something for which you can pray and hope.

False hope is like being a Pollyanna—optimistic, yet blind to reality. It is wishful thinking or vain imaginations.  Real hope, biblical hope, is different.

Biblical hope is confident trust in the reliability of God’s promises. It is solid and strong because it is based upon God’s words in the Bible. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

Hope presses on and looks ahead.

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: 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).

Day or night, we can ask God to show us what to do, to guide our path so we can look forward with trust, not trepidation.
“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4, 5 (emphasis mine)

Awakening Hope

Even if you are not ready for day

it cannot always be night.

--Gwendolyn Brooks, poet

Where I live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, sunrise can be spectacular. The fingers of early morning crawl across the eastern plains, gradually lluminating the city skyline, and increasing in brightness to reveal—like footlights on a stage—the splendor of the majestic snow-capped Pikes Peak. You can almost hear the Director signaling His creation, “Cue the morning; let a new day begin!”

The sun bids the darkness farewell, and the earth awakens.  It is a fresh start in your Heart Land as well, as your residual breakup pain fade and hope wakes up. Heartache is turning to healing. 

At the break of day, birds chirp cheerily, the alarm rings (not so cheerily), and sunlight streams through your bedroom window announcing the arrival of morning. The aroma of fresh coffee or hot tea beckons.

But for some people it’s hard to get up and get going. It this half asleep-but-not-yet-awake stage, they rouse and stir a bit, yawn and stretch, and then roll over and go back to sleep. They don’t want to get up yet. It’s too early, or they’re too tired, or they simply have no motivation to get out of bed. Perhaps they want to hold on to the last vestiges of night and linger in the darkness.

Others, bless their “I’m a morning person” heart, are exuberant at the crack of dawn. They spring from slumber to waking with the lively energy of Winnie the Pooh’s friend Tigger, full of bounce and ready to start the day.

Either way, getting out of bed is a choice. Just as having hope is a choice.

You can choose to stay asleep in the darkness of bitterness, resentment, and hopelessness. With the curtains closed tightly, and no light penetrating your heart, you wallow and mope, and keep moping.

Or instead, you could choose to follow the way of hope, and keep hoping, choosing to move forward into the full light of day—into the fullness of the abundant life of greater peace, joy and wholeness. 

The outcome of each path is entirely different.

Not yet ready for daylight

If you are not yet ready for day, you may hesitate moving forward many reasons. Perhaps you seem to have a hard time letting go of the past.  Your mind keeps wandering back to Memory Lane when things were good and life was happier.

For whatever reason, hope is stirring, but is thwarted.

Perhaps you feel like you’ve been emotionally sleepwalking, going through the motions of life, but you’re not fully aware or awake on the inside. Or, you may be physically present but not engaging conversationally with people or with life. You don’t really want to wake up on the inside because you don’t want to feel the pain and it’s just easier to numb out. Your circumstances still seem dark so maybe you think it’s only natural to sleep on the inside.

The problem is when you’ve been hurt and your hopes have been dashed, it can be hard to move forward and have hope—not only in a new relationship,but in life. Especially if you’ve had many breakups, you get tired of the repeated discouragement. It hurts. It’s hard. And you never want to go through it again. So you put hope to sleep in your life because you don’t want to be disappointed again. You are stuck in your story.
And it’s time to get up.

 (Reprinted from "When Love Ends and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty" by Jackie M. Johnson, Moody Publishing)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

After a Breakup: 7 Things to Help Heal Your Heart (Part 3)

A loss of significance—a big loss—can get stuck in your heart if it is not processed. When your self esteem falters, and you feel like it’s always midnight, and you hold it all in, the pain can pile up like emotional garbage. It clogs the drain, blocking your emotions as well as your movement forward into healing and wholeness.

Stuck pain can also lead to unwanted behavior. You’re constantly sad or bitter and it keeps you at arm’s length from other people, so you feel alone. You don’t feel like yourself, so you end up saying or doing things you don’t really mean—like blaming others or lashing out in unwarranted anger—and hurt others.

How can you get unstuck?

It’s been said that if you don’t grieve well you grieve all the time. While you may put on a good front for friends and coworkers, inside the lingering sadness remains. That’s why it’s so important to grieve losses—to unblock your frozen heart so you can feel better, find joy, and live a life of emotional freedom, serenity and love.

1. Express your grief

Grieving a loss is not a linear process.  There is no right or wrong order in which it must be done.  Processing loss can circle around a few times or wash over you like an ocean wave. When the waves of sorrow come, ride them out; they will not destroy you. Eventually the waves that once pounded you so hard will have less and less impact, and finally recede.

For some people, getting over a breakup takes a few weeks or months. For others it can take a year or more depending upon the level of relationship, the depth of love, the person’s emotional past, and how they handle emotions in general. Some attachments have more emotional glue than others which makes it harder to separate and to let go.

Everyone heals in their own way and their own timing because love and loss is unique for each person. Here are some ideas on how to process your pain and release your sadness through grieving.

2. Acknowledge your loss.

Getting through this season of grief and sadness begins by acknowledging that a loss has happened. Whether you left, he left, or it was a mutual agreement, something that was there is now gone.

3. Ask for help.

Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you do what you cannot do on your own. With His power, emotions expressed will begin the flow, unclogging your blocked heart. In time you will get unstuck and move from the darkness of loss and pain into the sunlight of restoration and wholeness.

4. Let yourself be sad.

In his book, Broken, Tim Baker says, “Sorrow is entirely underrated.” I have to agree.  Tears are a cleansing emotional release from a wellspring deep inside of us that need to get out. Tears are part of unblocking our inner stuckness and pain. “It is as if we have to cry so the pain has somewhere to go, and that somewhere is out of us,” said Baker.  

Crying alone can be healing. If you have someone to be with you when you cry, you are indeed blessed. What do you need to release today? Will you release the pain, release control, release your need to be right, release the other person from what he or she did to you—or didn’t?

5. Recognize what you’ve lost and what remains.

It can be helpful to make a list of your losses. Losing a significant love relationship is a loss, but you may have also incurred other losses during this time.

For instance, the loss of companionship and friendship, time spent with that person, and the loss of affection and physical touch.  You no longer have a person who knows you well, understands you, and makes you feel special.  Breaking up could mean the loss of a dream of a life together with that person. There is also loss of trust, loss of control, and the loss of self respect or self esteem.

Think about what remains and make a list of those things too. Whatever your list includes know that when all else is gone, God’s love goes on. He cares, He comforts and He is near to those who hurt. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

6. Remember, God redeems loss and pain and heals the heart to love again.

The word “redeem” means “to trade in, exchange, or transfer.” Think about discarded scraps of cloth, remnants. In the hands of a skilled seamstress they can be redeemed into a beautiful quilt that provides beauty, warmth and comfort.  God excels at converting heartache to healing, and redeeming things that have been tossed away into something worthy and wonderful.

7. Pray.

No matter what your circumstances, prayer is powerful. Prayer changes things. And it changes us. Whether you pray alone, with friends, or a prayer partner, talking and listening with God in a holy dialog is the most important thing you can do to heal your broken heart. It doesn’t have to include elaborate words; it can be simple and heartfelt—as if you were talking to a friend, because indeed you are.

Grieving, like night time, will not last forever. Remember, you’re just passing through on your way to better days. Much better days.

Healing Prayer
Dear Lord, I feel miserable. My heart is broken and I want to get beyond this pain. Will you help me to get unstuck and move forward into joy?  I need Your healing power and love to get me through. Lord, I choose to give you my pain, sadness and losses. I leave all of them at the foot of Your throne and release them. I cast my cares. Be near me Lord, in this dark season. Through this loss, I am thankful for what remains—my health, my friends and family, and mostly You. Thank you for your care, comfort and close presence. I know that You are with me every step of the way.  Lead me, moment by moment, from sadness to joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Want more info on getting over a breakup? Read other posts in this blog to find more help and hope.  -- Jackie M. Johnson

After a Breakup: Finding Healing (Part 2)

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
                                 Psalm 13:2

Healing a broken heart is a journey.  From sadness to joy, anger to peace, rejection to acceptance, and brokenness to a greater level of wholeness, the road to recovery is different for everyone. That’sbecause loss is different for everyone. Indeed, loss is personal. 

How you get over someone you once liked or loved and how long it takes will vary. 

It’s important to note that the healing takes place in the journey, not at the destination. The lessons you learn along the way and the choices you make can change and transform the landscape of your heart. Heart healing comes one step at a time, one choice at a time, and one day at a time.

The importance of grieving losses
As God kept his promises with people in the Bible long ago, like Moses and Joshua, He will keep His promises to you. He will be with you. The Lord knows you are hurting, and you don’t have to go through this time of pain alone. He will lead, guide, and provides light for every step in your heart healing journey.

You just have to trust Him.

One of the most essential lessons I learned in my season of desert darkness was the importance of grieving losses—going through not around the pain. It was a pivotal point in getting into freedom and joy.

I remember standing in a local bookstore reading an endorsement on the back of The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman. It was one of those “aha” moments when your heart says, “That’s what I need!” A professor who used the book for his college classes, Bernard McGrane, PhD., professor of sociology at Chapman University said, “…I believe that unresolved grief is the major underlying issue in most people’s lives.”
Unresolved grief? I knew I was sad and hurt from my last breakup. I was surely in pain. But it had never occurred to me that I had “grief” and it had to be resolved. Wasn’t grieving for getting over a death? 

In the ensuing months, I came to learn that grieving was for all sorts of losses. It gave me a name for the permeating underlying sadness I’d been feeling for months.

Why do people avoid processing emotional pain?

For one thing, as Mr. Griffen said to Annie in the movie We Are Marshall, “Grief is messy.” Mascara runs down your face when you cry, your eyes get puffy and your nose gets red. Your emotions fluctuate like the highs, lows and unexpected turns of a roller coaster ride. It’s not pretty. But then again, neither is a rainstorm in springtime when the roads flood and the mud slides. But grieving, like spring— the shoulder between the dead of winter and the glory of summer—lasts only for a season.

Maybe you’ve seen people who try to hide their pain. They put on a pretend smile when inside they are dying emotionally. Like a like a duck gliding along the surface of a pond, they seem calm and unruffled, while underneath they’re paddling like mad just to stay afloat. 

If you are going through a bad breakup and want to get over it, it’s important to know what grief is, why it’s important to process it, how to go through it.  

What is grief?
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Grieving? For a breakup? What’s the big deal? I mean, you just pick up the pieces and move on, right?” James and Friedman give us some important basics, “Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.” Grieving is okay. It’s necessary.  It’s not just for the loss of a loved one through death, but for other losses as well. “The problem,” they continue, “is we have all been socialized to believe that these feelings are abnormal and unnatural.”
Why deal with breakup grief?

The pain won’t just go away if you ignore it. In fact, it is widely known that holding back emotions or not dealing with them can lead to increased physical stress and even physical illness.
Read on...there is more help and hope to come in the next post.

After a Breakup: The Story (Part 1)

You never forget your first love. So they say. I will never forget my first big breakup.

Saying goodbye to Matt wasn’t like ending a high school romance or getting over a guy I’d dated a few times. He was the first of the big ones in the Breakup Big Leagues.

I met Matt in our church singles group. I’d been out of college for a few years and was involved in the leadership team so he knew who I was, but I didn’t know him well. One evening in late fall he called and asked me out. I knew enough to know that he was polite, friendly and seemed like a nice guy, so I said yes.

Over the course of the afternoon I discovered that Matt was interesting and easy to talk to, but I was unsure how I felt about him. I wasn’t initially attracted to him, but I liked his heart and wanted to get to know him better. He was mature in his faith. He was kind. He listened attentively and (gasp!) he asked me questions about me. Over the next few months Matt and I dated, and I grew more in like with him.

One January night at a singles retreat in northern Wisconsin we took a walk on a frozen lake and were holding hands under a clear, star-filled sky. He brought up the “L” word. It was more theoretical than personal when he said, “What do you think about love?” Love?  It wasn’t really on my radar with him—at least not yet. My cynical and jaded reply was “Love, love . . . who really knows what love is?” Yeah. That must have been a mood killer for him.

But he kept pursuing me.

Matt and I spent a lot of time together over the next six months, but I never told him how I really felt about him.

The following spring we went to a retreat together. After dinner we took a walk down a wooded path to enjoy the restful early evening calm. I felt good about how things had been progressing with us, and as we walked I told him that I was committed to moving forward with him. He seemed overjoyed, and we strolled back to the retreat center content and happy.

The next day he ended our relationship.

After all of his intense pursuit, he was suddenly stopping. What? Why? I was stunned. Matt told me that as long as I didn’t seem fully committed to him, as long as I was uncertain, then he didn’t have to make a decision about us. But once I decided I was “all in,” he had to back out because he wasn’t ready to make a commitment. 

It turned out that during all the months we were dating he still was pining over the woman who’d dumped him before dating me! He still believed that she was “The One” for him and he couldn’t be with me if there was still some chance he could have her.

Interestingly, this other woman was already dating someone else—and he knew that. But Matt still backed out and would not commit to me because of her.

 After I got home from that trip I tried to make sense of it all, but I couldn’t. Like a tornado on the Kansas prairie emotions swirled wildly around in my head: I was bewildered, confused, hurt, mad, and sad. I forgot to eat at times, and lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t sleep well and cried often. Basically, I was an emotional mess.

Since it was my first big breakup, I didn’t really know what to do to make the pain go away. I didn’t have a frame of reference for it or emotional resources to process the pain in healthy ways. We’d spent so much time together and had a strong emotional connection that after he left I felt like a part of me was missing.

How could loving make you feel so good and someone leaving make you feel so lousy?

Whether you are an angry man or a sad woman because of your breakup, it’s important to know your story. That means being clear about what happened—in your head. You may not always get the clarity you need from the other person. Be honest with yourself…and then move forward and find healing.  

Read the next blog post in this series--and most of the other posts in A New Day Cafe blog--to find hope and practical help.

Your better days will come!