Reflections (NYC 1997)

One of my jobs in my career as a paralegal took me to MTV Networks in Manhattan. I was so star-struck about living and working in New York City that I quit a perfectly good job in Scranton, PA to accept a position that didn’t pay enough to make my budget work in a bigger market. I didn’t care at the time. I just wanted to work in the City. It was something I’d dreamed of since I first set foot on the sidewalks of Times Square. The energy. The possibilities. Positively intoxicating!

I was eating lunch at the restaurant in the Paramount Hotel one afternoon, observing people around me, wondering what they did, who they were. Wishing at times I was something more than I was. I felt my life was nothing compared to theirs. My table was on the balcony. The walls were lined with mirrors. I was sucked in by the many reflections, and a poem came to me. I’d like to share it with you.

REFLECTIONS

Blue candles flickering,
Giant mirrors reflecting
Straight backed chairs holding
Straight necked gurus;
Life is seeming to bounce itself
Between me and them.
Money trickling down the isle,
Bypassing the middle, recycling,
Redistributed back to them,
Never making it to the likes of me.

When God’s Not There

When God’s not there

Everything is impossible,
Well, everything good and right and fair, that is;
Wrong is the common denominator,
The glue of things, holding it all together;

Not much good, for sure,
Just hateful, painful thoughts and actions
That are likely to promote more of what’s wrong,
Certainly, wrong is self-promoting;

Wrong loves its own company,
That whole misery loving company thing,
You know how that saying goes,
Horrible news, terrible consequences of
Something someone warned us about;

Like as if its discovery would
Turn one’s stomach, make one lose one’s lunch,
But even good intentions were simply
Railroads heading into nowhere;

Hard and black, damp and lonely,
Demons celebrating in the dark,
Turning somersaults when God is absent,
Latching on to the innocent, the tremulous,
Partying on the coattails of my formal wear.

They succeed at their rivalries when God’s not there.

©2015 Steven Barto

Separation and Emotional Scars

Severe separations in early life leave emotional scars on the brain because they assault the essential human connection, which is the mother-child bond that teaches us that we are lovable. The mother-child bond also teaches us how to love. We cannot be whole human beings — indeed, we may find it hard to be human — without the sustenance of this first attachment. And yet it has been argued that the need for others is not a primary instinct, that love is simply a wonderful side effect. The classic Freudian view is that babies find, in the feeding experience, relief from hunger and other oral fixations and that, in repeated encounters of sucking and sipping and sweet satiation, they begin to equate satisfaction with human contact. In the early months of life a meal is a meal and gratification is gratification.

I believe, however, that the need for human connection is paramount to our existence. We are social beings. We do not do well in isolation for a number of reasons. The basic need for human relationships is the perpetuation of the species. It is also obvious that many tasks are easier with another person helping you. It is in the best interest of humanity that we interact, aid, share, communicate, encourage, evaluate, promote, judge, advise and show support between each other. Of course, no man is an island. So what is the cost of separation?

It is generally agreed that by six to eight months most babies have formed a specific mother attachment. It is then that we all, for the first time, fall in love. And whether or not that love is linked to a fundamental need for human attachment, it possesses an intensity that will make us vulnerable to the loss — or even the threat of loss — of a loved one. And if a reliable early attachment is vitally important to healthy development, the cost of breaking that crucial bond — in other words, the cost of separation — may be high. The cost of separation is high when a too-young child is left too long alone, or is passed from foster home to foster home, or is placed in a nursery by a mother who says she’ll come back. Even worse is the separation a baby feels when he or she is dropped off at a “safe haven” at a fire station or ER and never sees mommy again. The cost of separation is high even in caring family situations when a divorce, a hospital stay, a geographical or emotional pulling away, fragments a child’s connection with his mother.

Now of course there will be separations in early childhood. And they may indeed produce distress and pain. But most normal separations, within the context of a stable, caring relationship, aren’t likely to leave us with scars on the brain. And yes, working mothers and babies can establish a loving, trusting bond. This is accomplished hundreds of thousands of times over day after day in America. But when separation imperils that early attachment, it is difficult to build confidence, to build trust, to acquire the conviction that throughout the course of our life we will find others to meet our needs. And when our first connections are unreliable or broken or impaired, we may transfer that experience, and our responses to that experience, onto what we expect from our children, our friends, our marriage partner, even our business partner.

Expecting to be abandoned, we hang on for dear life. We say things like Don’t leave me. Without you I am nothing. If you aren’t around, I have no reason to live. Expecting to be betrayed, we seize on every flaw and lapse. We make comments like See, I might have known I couldn’t trust you.

Expecting to be refused, we make excessive aggressive demands, furious in advance that they will not be met. Expecting to be disappointed, we make certain that, sooner or later, we are in fact disappointed. Fearful of separation, we establish anxious and angry attachments. And frequently, we bring to fruition those things which we feared. Driving away those we love by our clinging dependency or our needy rage. Fearful of separation, we repeat without remembering our history, imposing upon current circumstances our previous habits and behaviors.

I am not suggesting that we consciously remember experiences from early childhood loss by summoning up a picture of us sitting alone somewhere in a crib with mother nowhere to be found. What stays with us instead is what it surely must have felt like to be powerless and needy and alone. Forty years later, a door slams shut, and a woman is swept with waves of primitive terror. That anxiety is her “memory” of loss. Loss gives rise to anxiety when the loss is either impending or thought to be temporary. Anxiety contains a kernel of hope. But when loss appears to be permanent, anxiety (that is, protest) gives way to depression and despair, and we may not only feel lonely and sad but responsible for the bad thing that happened. We may feel helpless and unlovable and hopeless

I’ve read about studies that show how early childhood losses make us sensitive to losses we encounter later on. And so, in mid-life, our responses to a death in the family, a divorce, the loss of a job, may be a severe depression —  the response of that helpless and hopeless and angry child.

Anxiety is painful. Depression is painful. I’ve been there. Panic attacks that cause nausea, chest pain, dizziness, ringing in the ears, severe shakes. Depression that causes horrible stomach pains and neck and low back pain. Perhaps it is safer not to experience loss. And while we indeed may be powerless to prevent a death or divorce — or our mother leaving us — we can develop strategies that defend us against the pain of separation. Emotional detachment is one such defense. We cannot lose someone we care for if we don’t care. The child who wants his mother, and whose mother again and again and again isn’t there, may learn that loving and needing hurt too much. And he may, in his future relationships, ask and give little, invest almost nothing at all, and become detached — like a rock — because “a rock,” as a song from the sixties tells us, feels no pain. And an island never cries.

Another defense against loss may be a compulsive need to take care of other people. Instead of aching, we help those who ache. And through our kind ministrations, we both alleviate our old sense of helplessness and identify with those we care for so well. A third defense is a premature autonomy. We claim independence far too soon. We learn at an early age not to let our survival depend on the help or love of anyone. We dress the helpless child in the brittle armor of the self-reliant adult.

These losses we have been looking at — these premature separations of early childhood — may skew our expectations and our responses, may skew our subsequent dealings with the necessary losses of our life. All of our loss experiences hark back to Original Loss, the loss of that ultimate mother-child connection. For before we begin to encounter the inevitable separations of everyday life, we live in a state of oneness with our mother. Think of this: there is no connection, no bliss, quite like that of the umbilical cord. Losing that connection is the first in a series of devastating losses. When newborn babies are not fed regularly when they are hungry, this is another devastating loss. Their psyche is actually damaged. It’s not just a loss of nutrition; it’s a loss of a primitive bond between baby and mommy. If this continues, the child develops problems on a number of levels. Disappointment becomes a familiar cloud hovering over the child’s life. Fear is also injected into his existence. And, again, there is a failure to satisfy the basic instinct of needing to eat. He feels rejected and abandoned and helpless. Hunger actually causes a newborn baby pain that he or she cannot understand. It simply hurts to be starving.

What is interesting is all of us live, at some unconscious level, as if we had been rendered incomplete by our upbringing. Though the rupture of primary unity is a necessary loss, it remains an incurable wound which afflicts the destiny of the whole human race. And speaking to us through the dreams that we dream and the tales that we create, images of reunion persist and persist, and persist — and bracket our life. So again, severe separations in early life leave emotional scars on the brain because they assault the essential human connection. When that essential connection is damaged or, in worse cases, cut off, it puts us at a complete disadvantage when dealing with others in our young adult and adult life. We are social beings, and furtherance of the human race must by necessity count on our having learned how to bond, to trust, to believe, to contribute, and to care about the outcome of our interpersonal relationships. How can we love others and show empathy and compassion if we never bonded appropriately as a child?

Jesus Christ is the True Higher Power

I get a daily thought in my email every day regarding Alcoholics Anonymous. I wanted to share today’s with you because I find this thought to be dangerous.

A Beginning
My friend suggested what then seemed to be a novel idea. He said, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” That statement hit me hard. It melted away the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last. It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 12

I think this thought is dangerous for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, I know that no human power can relieve us of our alcoholism, but on the other hand we’re told that there is one who has all power, that one is GOD, may you find him now. I know in my heart that the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous meant the God of Abraham, the Father of Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer. I believe it is He who relieves our compulsion and squashes our physical cravings and delivers us from the bondage of addiction and helps us to become neutral when it comes to alcohol. It is He who renews our mind and our spirit, and takes away our character defects if we ask. It is He that heals our drug and alcohol battered body. It is he that forgives our offenses (our sins) and provides the river of living water. It is not a tree, or a door knob, or the AA group, or a dog, or a universal spirit, or the wind, or fire, or mother earth, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or the spirit of Bill W. It is not our own concept of God. There is only one God. He’s contained entirely within the Holy Bible. He is all sovereign and all powerful and all caring and all knowing. He wants us to live life sober and abundantly. For me, being told I can “invent’ my own God does not encourage me or make me feel good in my spirit. I would most likely invent a God that is far less powerful and judging than the God of Abraham. I run the risk of creating in my mind a God who is all loving, and I’ll tend to let out God’s wrath, His hatred of sin, His disdain for false prophets and Pharisees, and self-righteous worshipers.

But this God is a jealous God. He does not want us to seek a solution to our difficulties on our own, or to use some written formula or steps or rules of behavior. He doesn’t want us trying to behave ourselves into heaven, or even out of drunkenness. We cannot find our own solution to the sin problem. We have a sin nature. We walk often in the flesh, where we cater to our instincts, our wants, our desires, our cravings. Left to our own devices, we lie, cheat and manipulate. Sometimes we even steal. We justify or rationalize our behaviors. We don’t even consider whether we’re doing something wrong. And if we examine our behaviors outside of the scope of the Law of Moses and the commandment of Jesus to operate from a platform of love, we totally miss the point. We can’t get into heaven by obeying a bunch of rules, and we can’t beat our cravings for alcohol without intervention from the Lord Jesus Christ.

How It Works has it right: No human power can relieve our alcoholism. With this in mind, how can we successfully make “the rooms” of AA our higher power? Yes, there is strength in numbers. Two minds are better than one. 12-Step interventions work. We can talk to a struggling alcoholic and share our experience, strength and hope. Picking up the phone and calling someone on your phone list can help you derail your intention to drink at that particular moment. But people do not possess the power necessary to relieve your alcoholism. If the only way you deal with cravings is to call and talk about them when they occur, then you’re not going to grow strong in your ability to stop experiencing cravings in the first place. If you call on fellow members of AA only, and you don’t get into a relationship with Almighty God, you will always be troubled with cravings. You see, there has to be a change within us. A change that renews our mind and alters the way we think of alcohol, period. This change comes from the Lord Jesus. The Big Book promises us that if we work the Steps, rely on God, and thoroughly follow the treatment plan, it is rare that a person fails in his effort to get and stay sober.

So when I see people going to meetings day after day, airing their dirty laundry, their complaints, their heartaches, and seemingly struggling with a compulsive thought to drink, I think they are missing something. We’re promised we can come to a position of neutrality regarding booze. We will be able to be around it without wanting to drink it. We can go wherever we need to go, with good reason, and feel safe even if alcohol is present. Yes, it is often suggested that we take a sober friend along, and this does help us be accountable for our behavior at the event. But if I am on good spiritual ground when I come across a drinking opportunity, the Big Book tells me I will not pick up a drink. A good part of what helps me resist any temptation is my prayer to God to keep me away from a drink or drug today. To be in touch with God enough that my behavior will be that which God wants. Here’s the thing: the more we walk in the will of God, the easier it gets to do so. It’s like exercising our spiritual “muscles.”

I am not picking on Alcoholics Anonymous. I will say, however, that just going to meetings and reading the Steps as part of opening up the meeting will not give you any power to resist the temptation to drink. Saying the Lord’s Prayer, paying particular attention to the line that “yours is the kingdom and the POWER…” will not automatically infuse you with the power over the drink. How It Works tells us “There is one who has all power, that one is God, may you find him now.” That line hints that we have to seek God. He’s there, and He will reach out to us as we reach out to him. I truly know of no successful breakaway from alcoholism while using a door knob, a tree, a rock, the sun, mother earth, Thor the thunder god, universal consciousness, the rooms of AA, the cosmos, Buddha, Mohammed, or any other source as a higher power. However, I know of numerous alcoholics that have put down the drink one day at a time through seeking God Almighty. Moreover, Jesus Christ died for my sins and iniquities, my bondage, my illnesses. He was tortured, whipped, spat upon, mocked, and murdered for my sake. By His stripes I am healed. I am set free from the bondage of addiction. And that is what makes me able to be free from alcohol one day at a time.

I attend AA meetings. I don’t always share, and I sometimes chair the meeting. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, I substitute “Jesus” for “God.” I often pray silently that God would move among the meeting, tugging at people’s hearts to share what they need in order to get healthy, that newcomers would have a light bulb go on over their head. I pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. For insight that will edify and benefit others in the meeting. That God would keep the meeting safe and on track. That no one leaves before the miracle happens. I thank God for keeping me sober another twenty-four hours. That he puts the right words in my mouth when I share. The only thing I don’t do is preach about Jesus, and frankly that makes me feel guilty. I know Christ came to set the captives free. So I save that conversation for one-on-one after the meeting or on the phone. May God bless the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A Christmas Tree in Vermont

When I was in third grade, my family moved to Springfield, Vermont. I was too young (as yet) to live on my own, so despite the fact that I would miss my friends I decided I better go with them. Ha, ha!  We were there for about a year, covering all of the seasons. My favorite was Christmastime. We got a lot of snow in Vermont, and the sledding was unbelievable. We leased a house at the foot of a mountain. There was a wide gate at the back of the yard which opened to a trail up the mountain. Dad would open the gate, and my brother and I would sled ride down the hill and into the back yard. We’d be outside for hours, seemingly immune to the cold. Mom would wave from the kitchen window.

Dad decided it would be nice to hike up the side of the mountain and pick out a Christmas tree and cut it down. Off we headed, up the hill, dad carrying a tree saw. It took some time to find an appropriate tree. Perfect size, perfect shape. The tree he found was a whopper. I was only a third-grader, so it looked huge to me. Dad cut the tree down, and we dragged it back down the side of the mountain and into the back yard. We traipsed inside and threw our coats on the floor of the mud room, kicked off our boots, and headed to the kitchen where mom had hot chocolate waiting on the stove. You know, the good stuff made with milk and Hershey’s syrup.

I picked up an anthology of poems at the library today titled Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania. We are blessed in Pennsylvania with a number of wordsmiths, poets, novelists, essayists, dramatists, biographers, children’s authors and short story writers. The collection is edited by Marjorie Maddox of Williamsport and Jerry Wemple of Bloomsburg. One poem caught my eye and reminded me of the day we cut down the Christmas tree in Vermont. I wanted to share that poem with you now. It’s by Len Roberts.

Climbing the Three Hills in Search of the Perfect Christmas Tree

Just seven nights from
the darkest night of the year, my son
and I climb
the three hills behind
the white
house, his flashlight
leaping
from hemlock to fir,
to white
pine and blue spruce
and back
again, Up up higher
he runs,
shadow among larger
shadows
in the below-zero,
constellated
half-mooned sky, his
voice
so distant at times
I think
it is the wind, a rustle
of tall
grass, the squeak of my
boots
on new snow, his silence
making
me shout, Where are you?,
his floating
back, Why are you so slow?,
a good
question I asked myself to
the beat
of my forty-eight-year-old
heart,
so many answers rushing up
that
I have to stop and command
them back,
snow devils whirling
before
me, behind me, on all
sides,
names that gleam and
black
out like ancient specks
of moon-
light, that old track
I step
onto like an escalator
rising
to the ridge where the
best
trees grow and I know
I will find my son.

The End (A Poem)

THE END

Tomorrow is but an empty container
Of items listed on his agenda.
Tasks yet undertaken.
A piece of flesh, a slice of life,
Three, four, five times over.
Looking way beyond the ledge.
Horizons capped, limits reached.
A man’s image twice complete.
You ask me how I know he’s been here.
Just look up into yesterday’s sunset
And you will see the unfinished product.
A bunch, a bushel,
Measured for you.
Can you (will you)
See the end?

© 1998 Steven Barto

Suffering Without Sinning

I am reading Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth About the Gospel, by David Limbaugh. He made a comment in the book that I’d like to share with you. He wrote, “We must not use our suffering as an excuse to sin, but as an opportunity to grow spiritually.” Not only is it a chance for us to mature, I believe we need also recognize that our suffering can be an opportunity for others to learn from our circumstances. We, in no way, should find occasion to sin because we are suffering. We cannot rebel, or argue with God, or hate or resent others. We cannot look to relieve our suffering through our own selfish acts.

Pain often reveals God’s purpose for us. God never wastes a hurt! If you’ve gone through a hurt, he wants you to help other people going through that same hurt. He wants you to share it. God can use the problems in your life to give you a ministry to others. In fact, the very thing you’re most ashamed of in your life and resent the most could become your greatest ministry in helping other people. Who can better help somebody going through a bankruptcy than somebody who went through a bankruptcy? Who can better help somebody struggling with an addiction than somebody who’s struggled with an addiction? Who can better help parents of a special needs child than parents who raised a special needs child? Who can better help somebody who’s lost a child than somebody who lost a child? The very thing you hate the most in your life is what God wants to use for good in your life.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1, verses 4 and 6, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things” (NLT). This is called redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is when you go through a problem or a pain for the benefit of others. This is what Jesus did. When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t deserve to die. He went through that pain for our benefit so that we can be saved and go to Heaven. So that we can live a life free from bondage and disease.

There are many different causes for the problems, pains, and suffering in our lives. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us we bring on ourselves. When we make stupid decisions, then it causes pain in our lives. If we go out and overspend and buy things we can’t afford and assume we can make the payments in the future, and then go deeply in debt and lose our house, we can’t say, “God, why did you let me lose my house?” We can’t blame God for our bad choices. But in some of our problems, we’re innocent. We’ve been hurt by the pain, stupidity, and sins of other people. And some of the pain in our lives is for redemptive suffering. God often allows us to go through a problem so that we can then help others.

We are exhorted to “put on Christ” and to imitate Him, our High Priest and our Teacher, so that we might partake of His divine nature. In order to redeem us, our Lord took on flesh and gave all to the Father. In order to be Christ-like, we, too, must take up our cross, accept suffering, and strive to offer Him all. It says in Luke 14:27, “And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.” 2 Cor. 4:8 tells us that in all things we suffer tribulation but are not distressed. Philippians 3:8-11 says, “Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. And may be found in Him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God: justice in faith. That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings: being made conformable to His death, If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead.”

Think of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, under so much stress and agony that He literally sweated blood. Think of Him being hounded and mocked by people who should have fallen to their knees and kissed His feet, adoring Him and begging Him for mercy. Think of the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars with a crown of thorns thrust onto His head, being spat upon, beaten, and nailed to a Cross. God Himself suffered in His human nature, so why should we be spared? Thing is, we need to have a right attitude about our suffering. We need to realize that uncomfortable things will happen to us in this life, but this helps us to help others.

Many of us think we suffer because of our circumstances. We believe that if our circumstances would change, we’d be able to act right. But God wants us to become so mature and stable that we act right even when none of our circumstances are good. There are different levels of faith, and most of the time we want to use our faith to get rid of a problem. But sometimes God’s plan is for us to exercise a higher level of faith that will carry us through life’s challenges. This requires even greater faith than being delivered from a situation.

As Christians, we may also face trials and suffer simply because we live in a world full of sin. But Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you]” (John 16:33, Amp) What a promise! Understanding the reason for our suffering and having the assurance of the final glory we’ll share should make it a little easier to enjoy our lives even during the times of sharing in suffering.

God uses trials in the believer’s life for several reasons. They purify us (See Malachi 3:3-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9. Psa. 66:10) by making us rely more on God and His grace. James tells us trials increase our patience (See James 1:3,4,12) and God uses them to glorify Himself. (See 1 Peter 4:12-16). Paul sums it up well when he states, “my strength [in trusting and drawing closer to God] is made perfect in weakness.” (See Gal. 12:9). The non-believer suffers in despair. (See Gal. 6:7-8). He has no hope and no assurance that he will be delivered out of his trials by God.

Because God sees the end from the beginning, He knows where we’re weak and where we need refining. Suffering is like a refiner’s fire. It burns away all the impurities, leaving only that which is profitable. We will be rewarded for our sufferings. (See Matt. 5:10-12) In them we can comfort others who are going through the same difficulties. Remember, Jesus suffered more than any man, but to the greater glory. In His sufferings, he made the way for us to be reconciled to God. If in our sufferings we can lead others to Christ, then we should suffer joyfully. Remember, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (See Rom. 8:18) This is so much better than sinning because of our suffering. Only when we earnestly look forward to the glories of the Kingdom of God can we view our own sufferings in proper perspective.

Stop Stuffing Your Stuff

One of the primary ways people avoid dealing with pain is to “stuff it.” So often, when people hurt us, we stuff it down deep in our hearts instead of dealing with it. And when we stuff pain for too long, it finally explodes in one big ugly fit of anger. It took me years to understand why I would explode over some seemingly minor situation that certainly was not sufficient cause for my ridiculous behavior. I now know that the explosions came from many negative emotions I had stuffed deep inside and was refusing to deal with. The incident that seemed to be the problem was just the trigger for the explosion that was hidden and ready to go off at any time.

I was ignoring the real problem and blaming my bad behavior on anything and anyone I could. No matter how spiritual I pretended to be on Sunday at church, my friends and family knew the real me. I managed to ignore the problem for years by making excuses and blaming others, but eventually I had to let God “clean out the refrigerator” so to speak, and get to the root of the problem.

God uses the truth to set us free (see John 8:32), but it is not the truth about someone else that sets us free; it is the truth about ourselves that we need! Facing truth about myself has always been very difficult for me, as well as emotionally painful. But it is also the beginning of my healing. Whatever the truth is, go ahead and admit it. If you’re angry, admit it. If you’re afraid, admit it. If you’re jealous of someone, admit it. Go to God and say, “You know what, God? I know I have a bad attitude. It really stinks and even I can smell it. I want to understand why I have this problem. What is in me? Will you please show me why I have this problem?”

Maybe the Lord will show you immediately what your struggle is. Perhaps you are insecure; maybe you do not know who you are in Christ. You might be comparing yourself to others too often. Perhaps you suffered a major hurt or disappointment years ago and you have not been willing to forgive or allow God to heal you yet. Make a commitment to start being honest and owning our feelings. Refuse to stuff them and immediately stop making excuses and blaming others for your negative emotions. You will probably have to talk to God a lot, and you may even need to seek help from a trustworthy friend or your pastor. But whatever you have to do is worth doing it if it helps you to be free and enjoy life.

Whatever has hurt, angered or offended you, determine today that you are going to go through the pain of facing it and dealing with it. A friend of mine told me recently that when he has a day where he feels depressed, impatient, frustrated, or easily upset, he asks himself what happened the day before that he has not dealt with. He said God almost always shows him something he did not deal with properly, and helps him recognize that as the root of his bad behavior. That is a much better approach than ignoring what you’re feeling, or stuffing your emotions deep inside you.

As believers, we have an enemy. He will oppose us any way he can. He uses our own thoughts and feelings against us. The devil actually sets us up to get upset. He knows we cannot enjoy power if we have no peace. He knows that the love of God cannot flow through us if we are upset. I have heard it said in AA meetings that anger and resentment cut us off from the Sunlight of the Spirit. The devil will always attempt to upset us, but we can learn to stay calm, cool, and collected at all times. Of course, it takes practice and it takes the grace of God. The next time something happens that could easily upset you, ask yourself if it is worth it. Will being upset change anything? Can you afford to waste your energy being upset? Will it distract you from God’s purpose for your life? Every day we are faced with good and evil. We decide which to choose.

Every time we suffer hurts, injustices, or offenses, we need to remember that people are not our enemies. Satan is our enemy. God has given us a secret weapon, one that is sure to defeat the devil and destroy his strategies and plans. You have a secret weapon against the enemy, and he hates it because he knows he cannot stand against it. I call it a secret weapon because most believers completely miss it. Your weapon is your God-given ability to be good to people who offend you. Your flesh may want revenge, but God says press through your pain by repaying evil with good. This is difficult to do when you are in the flesh. When you are emotionally distraught or offended. It is much easier to do if you can train yourself to remain calm no matter what the devil is doing.

We should pray to God for this ability to forgive, to love, and to let go of offenses. We’re instructed in the Scriptures to forgive others no matter what the offense. We need to access God’s blessings and righteousness and forgiveness, remembering that we must also forgive, or we will not be forgiven. Mark 11:25 says, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Remember when Peter asked Jesus how many times we are to forgive someone who sins against us? “Seven times?” Peter asked. Jesus answered him, saying, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” That’s 490 times. Every day. Even if it’s the same offense over and over. In other words, there is to be no limit to our forgiveness of others.

When you do not think you can obey God’s command to forgive others, all you have to do is say, “God, by Your grace and mercy I am going to be good to that person. I am not going to tell others what he has done to me. I will not speak ill of that person, but I will pray for him, as You want me to. If I see the person who hurt me, I am going to walk right up to him and say hello. I am going to be kind and obey Your word and overcome evil with good.” You may not have warm, fuzzy feelings toward a person who has hurt you, but as a Christian you must deal with your anger in a biblical way. Do that, as an act of your will, and the right feelings will eventually follow.

To me, freedom means I am able to make choices about how I will behave and not be a prisoner to negative emotions. I can act according to God’s word instead of reacting to situations. The devil may be alive and well on earth, but he is not going to control me any longer. He has no right to control you either. God is on our side, and that makes us more than conquerors. So rather than harboring resentments against others and stuffing our anger and disappointment, we need to seek God’s grace in dealing with those negative feelings and letting go of the offense. If we don’t do this, things build up like a pressure cooker, and we explode at what others perceive to be the littlest things. The more we practice this, the easier it gets to accomplish it.

Is Marijuana a Safe Recreational Drug?

I started smoking marijuana at age eighteen immediately after graduating from high school. I did not drink or get high during my high school years. I did fairly well academically. I tested at an IQ of 127. I was very ambitious, outgoing, creative and focused. I wanted to be a published author, and also enjoyed photography and working in local radio broadcasting. My extracurricular activities included a local history project, sports photography and yearbook. I was on the debate team. I lettered in tennis in j-v. Having some issues with self-worth, and not liking confrontation, I stayed away from things like running for class president.

Marijuana has been in the news a lot lately. It seems every month a new state passes legislation that makes pot legal for medicinal purposes or, sometimes, for recreational use. Interestingly, the possession and sale of marijuana remains a federal crime. With all of this legislative activity, I can’t help but wonder if lawmakers are opening Pandora’s Box. Is marijuana a safe recreational drug? Can it lead to use of other substances? Is it addictive? How hard is it to quit smoking pot if you’ve been smoking it in large quantities or for a long time? Let’s start this discussion by talking about what pot is and what it does to those who use it.

Marijuana is the smokable part of the cannabis plant. It is usually sold in small plastic bags. When the drug comes from a medical marijuana facility, it may be packaged in a pill bottle or a vacuum-sealed package. When the resins of this plant are collected and compressed into blocks of dark brown material, that is called hashish. Most of the world hashish is made in Morocco. It is far stronger than marijuana. Hashish ranges from medium brown to almost black, and may have a sticky or crumbly consistency.

The dark, sticky oil of the resin or marijuana plant may also be sold in small bottles. This is called hash oil. It can be added to a marijuana cigarette to make it more potent, or it can be smoked in a pipe, a piece of aluminum foil or spoon. It can also be added to a tobacco cigarette to make it intoxicating. I smoked marijuana so heavily that when I ran out and needed to get high, I would scrape the pipe or bowl to scoop out concentrated amounts of resin. I would then smear the resin on cigarette paper and smoke it in the pipe. It was very potent, and I would sometime pass out from a big hit of the resin.

So let’s get right to the major question: Is marijuana addictive? Groups that are in favor of medical marijuana or broad legalization sweep this question under the carpet. The fact is that, yes, it is addictive. You are unlikely to hear this fact on the nightly news, in the newspaper or anywhere else. Marijuana is addictive. Of all the people that use marijuana, about one in eleven will become addicted. I was one of those who became addicted. When a young person begins smoking marijuana in his or her teens, that person has a one in six chance of becoming addicted. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2010, more than 360,000 people were admitted to treatment for addiction, with marijuana being listed as the primary drug they were abusing. That is, they went into rehab because of marijuana and its effects on their bodies and minds. Twenty-eight percent, or approximately 103,000, were between twelve and seventeen years old. Forty-three percent were under twenty-one.

Because of greatly increased potency in marijuana, mental distress, panic attacks and other problems have also increased. In 2011, there were nearly half a million visits to the ER related to problems with marijuana use. Common symptoms were severe nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks and paranoia. According to the 2013 World Drug Report, an estimated one in fifteen high school seniors is a daily or near-daily user of cannabis. For parents who used to smoke pot on the weekend or at parties, they can understand what daily use by a high school student would do to his ability to do his school work or to retain what he hears in a class lecture.

Some people argue that because marijuana does not have dramatic withdrawal symptoms like alcohol or heroin, it is not addictive. I see two errors with this thinking. One is that the pot being smoked today is far more potent than it was twenty or thirty years ago. That makes withdrawal a far different matter. Also, it is simply not true that quitting marijuana does not put you at risk for withdrawal. The most likely withdrawal symptoms include irritability, insomnia, anxiety, nightmares, anger and fluctuating emotions, headaches, depression, loss of appetite, and craving to use the drug. The degree to which the withdrawal symptoms are serious depends on how much pot the person was smoking, for how long they used the drug, and their own unique physical and emotional makeup.

I think a better measure of addiction is whether or not the person experiences harm from the use of the drug but is so compelled to use it and the cravings for it are so strong that he uses it anyway. This was true for me. I used marijuana in large amounts from the age of eighteen until the age of 48. My cravings were so strong that I used the drug despite failing health, difficulty making bill payments while buying the drug, inability to concentrate on the job as a paralegal, strained or broken interpersonal relationships, bounced checks, and an inability to sleep or relax without getting high. An addicted cannabis user will continue to get high despite the occurrence of these types of consequences. It is common for a heavy pot smoker to stop caring about the damage and just focus on staying stoned. This applies to heavy marijuana use, as well as crack cocaine or meth or pain pills.

Marijuana is not the harmless, safe substance many might like to think it is, especially for those under age thirty. According to some of the Internet research I conducted, neuroscience has now shown us that the brain continues to develop until the late 20s, and using drugs while the brain is still developing can influence how it develops and result in moderate to potentially significant problems down the line. When adolescents use marijuana, for example, the white matter of their brains can undergo changes that are similar to the brains of individuals with schizophrenia. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that marijuana smoking in adolescence significantly increases the risk for eventually becoming psychotic and/or developing schizophrenia. This risk is even greater for people who had psychiatric symptoms before their first experience with marijuana and those with schizophrenia in their families. And furthermore, more and more data are confirming the fact that marijuana users are also at increased risk for developing anxiety and depression later in their lives, as well as having memory deficits.

All of this proved true in my own life. I had no idea I was suffering from an underlying psychiatric problem. I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and major depression. The constant use of alcohol and marijuana kept the symptoms hidden. As you’ve probably heard it said, I was self-medicating. Marijuana masked some of my difficulties, and distracted me enough that I didn’t understand what was going on. Not only did my psychiatric problems increase, my cravings for pot greatly increased. I knew no other life. It had become perfectly normal for me to be high. Anything else seemed abnormal. So when I hear people say marijuana is perfectly safe, I strongly disagree. I know what it did to me over the years, and I’ve seen it do the same thing to others. I went to my five-year high school reunion. I ran into people I used to get high with. You probably won’t be shocked to learn that they had not grown in any significant manner, and were still smoking pot.

Back when I went to high school in the mid 1970s, about thirty percent of the students I knew were using marijuana regularly. They called it “partying” or “getting stoned.” It wasn’t hard to recognize when someone started using pot. Almost instantly, their overall attitude changed. Many who had been good students, engaged and talented, started to withdraw, and adopt a passive aggressive viewpoint. Regular pot use by them, from what I observed, caused a kind of lethargy. Activity levels dropped off drastically. They developed a “who cares” attitude, and became non-compliant. The look on the face of most pot users is sort of vacant and dull. Their eyes glaze over and don’t seem to focus. If you’re not also high, conversation with them is particularly difficult.

Typically, marijuana users tend to believe pot is harmless. That there are far more dangerous drugs they could be using. In fact, pot is “all natural,” so it must be okay. Pot users do not see the gradual increase in tolerance and a need for smoking more and more. Once a pot smoker is convinced he or she cannot live without marijuana, this is addiction. When the person uses even though he or she promised themselves they wouldn’t, this is compulsion. It is the nature of addiction that addicts don’t believe they are ill. They do not have a problem. Addiction is a physical, mental and spiritual disease. It doesn’t matter what the substance is.

I remember years ago realizing I was getting high too often, and I told my “dealer” I might need to go to rehab. He laughed, saying I would be bullied in the facility for merely being a marijuana user. I told him I was having a very difficult time stopping, that I was spending all my money on pot, that my interpersonal relationships were suffering, and that I was a wreck when I wasn’t high. This was a sure sign of addiction and compulsion. Not only was I psychologically dependent on pot, I had also become an alcoholic, drinking nearly a fifth of Vodka per day. My behavior became so antisocial that I ended up serving a three year sentence in state prison. It is definitely my opinion, based upon research and my personal experience, that chronic pot smoking leads to many problems. It is not simply a harmless “natural” recreational drug. It has the potential to create emotional, physical and financial problems, and often leads to using other substances once smoking pot becomes boring or doesn’t do the trick anymore. Marijuana is not a safe recreational drug.

Praying in Tongues

I belong to a Pentecostal church. A good number of our members practice what they call praying in tongues. I presently do not pray or speak in tongues, and have sometimes wondered if that means the others are more spiritually mature than I. More in touch with God. This, of course, made me question my spirituality. I have prayed and asked God to baptize me in the Holy Spirit with the “evidence” of speaking or praying in tongues. When that didn’t happen, I considered myself the odd man out. Satan used this opportunity to get me to question my Christian maturity and whether I should remain at my church. Since this was a big question, I decided to talk to someone at the church whose opinion I value. Also, I did some research on praying in tongues versus speaking in tongues. I want to share my research with you, my blog followers.

My first question was what is the difference between praying in the spirit and praying in tongues? I have been told by some Christians that these were the same thing. Praying in the spirit is mentioned three times in Scripture. 1 Cor. 14:15 says, “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.” Ephesians 6:18 says, “And pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Jude 20 says, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” So, what exactly does it mean to pray in the spirit?

The Greek word “pray in” can have several different meanings. It can mean “by means of,” “with the help of,” “in the sphere of,” and “in connection to.” Praying in the spirit does not refer to the words we’re saying. Rather, it refers to how we are praying. Praying in the spirit is praying according to the Spirit’s leading. It is praying for things the Spirit leads us to pray for. Romans 8:26 tells us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with us in groans that words cannot express.”

Some, based on 1 Cor. 14:15, equate praying in the Spirit with praying in tongues. Discussing the gift of tongues, Paul mentions “praying with my spirit.” 1 Cor. 14:14 states that when a person prays in tongues, he does not know what he is saying, since it is a language he does not know. Further, no one else can understand what is being said unless there is an interpreter of the tongues. In Ephesians 6:18, Paul tells us to pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of requests. How are we to pray for the saints if no one, including the person praying, understands what’s being said? Therefore, praying in the Spirit should be understood as praying in the power of the Spirit, by the leading of the Spirit, and according to His will, not praying in tongues.

There are four primary Scripture passages that are cited as evidence for praying in tongues. Romans 8:26, 1 Cor. 14:4-17, Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20. The passages in Ephesians and Jude mention praying in the Spirit. However, praying in tongues as a prayer language is not a likely interpretation of praying in the spirit. Romans 8:26 teaches us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” I see two key reasons why it is unlikely that this Scripture is referring to tongues as a prayer language. First of all, the passage says that it is the Spirit that groans, not the believer. Second, Romans 8:26 states that the groans of the Spirit cannot be expressed. The very essence of speaking in tongues is uttering words.

That leaves us with 1 Cor 14:4-17, and verse 14 specifically, which says, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” This verse says “praying in tongues.” What does that mean? First, we need to see the context in which this is mentioned. 1 Cor. 14 is primarily a comparison of the gift of speaking in tongues and the gift of prophecy. Versus 2-5 make it clear that Paul views prophecy as a gift superior to tongues. At the same time, he speaks of the value of tongues and declares that he is glad that he speaks in tongues more than anyone (Verse 18.)

Acts Chapter 2 describes the first occurrence of the gift of tongues. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles spoke in tongues. Chapter 2 makes it clear that the apostles were speaking in a human language. (Acts 2:6-8) The word translated “tongues” in both Acts Chapter 2 and 1 Cor. Chapter 14 is glossa, which means “language.” It is the word from which we get the modern English word “glossary.” Speaking in tongues was the ability to speak in a language the speaker does not know, in order to communicate the Gospel to one who does speak that language. Corinth was a city of many cultures and languages at the time. The gift of tongues was extremely valuable. The Corinthian believers were better able to communicate the Gospel and God’s Word as a result of the gift of tongues. Regardless, it is important to note that Paul made it abundantly clear that even in this usage of tongues, the utterance was interpreted or translated. A Corinthian believer would speak in tongues, proclaiming God’s word to someone who spoke that language, then that believer, or another believer in the church, was to interpret what was spoken so that the entire assembly was edified.

This does not agree with those who view tongues as a prayer language. This alternative understanding can be summarized as follows: praying in tongues is a personal prayer language between a believer and God (1 Cor. 13:1) that a believer uses to edify himself (1 Cor. 14:4) I don’t believe this is biblical. How can praying in tongues be a private prayer language if it has to be interpreted? (1 Cor. 14:13-17) How can praying in tongues be for self-edification when Scripture says that the spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church, not the self? (1 Cor. 12:7) How can praying in tongues be a private prayer language if the “gift of tongues” is a sign for non-believers? (1 Cor. 14:22) The Bible makes it clear that not every believer possesses the gift of tongues. (1 Cor. 12:11, 28-30) How can tongues be a gift for self-edification if not every believer can speak in tongues?

Some believers believe praying in tongues is a “secret language” that prevents Satan from understanding our prayers and thereby gaining an advantage over us. This interpretation is not biblical. The New Testament consistently describes tongues as a human language. It is unlikely that Satan and his minions are unable to understand human languages. The Bible records countless believers praying in their own language, out loud, with no concern of Satan interpreting the prayer. The devil and his demons hear and understand the prayers we pray. But they have absolutely no power to prevent God from answering the prayers in accordance with His will. We know that God hears our prayers, and that fact makes it irrelevant whether Satan and his demons hear and understand our prayers.

What do we say then about the many Christians who experience praying in tongues and find it very personally edifying? First, we must base our faith and our practice on Scripture, not experience. We must view our experiences in light of Scripture, not interpret Scripture in light of how we feel. Second, many of the cults and false religions of the world also report occurrences of speaking and praying in tongues. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is not gifting these non-believers with praying in tongues or speaking in tongues. So, it seems that demons are able to counterfeit the gift of speaking in tongues. This should cause us to compare even more carefully our experiences with what the Bible has to say about those experiences. I also read that speaking in tongues can actually be a learned behavior. Through hearing and observing others speak in tongues, a person can learn the procedure, even subconsciously. Also, the feeling of “self-edification” is natural. The human body produces adrenaline and endorphins when it experiences something new, exciting and emotional.

Praying in tongues is most definitely an issue on which Christians can respectfully and lovingly agree to disagree. Praying in tongues is not what determines salvation. Praying in tongues is not what separates a mature Christian from an immature Christian. I am glad I’ve been able to come to this conclusion. Whether or not there is such a thing as praying in tongues as a personal prayer language is not a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith. So, while we believe the biblical interpretation of praying in tongues leads away from the idea of a private prayer language for personal edification, we also recognize that many who practice such are our brothers and sisters in Christ and are worthy of our love and respect.

It is for this reason that I am willing to remain at my Pentecostal church and not run to something new. First of all, what I have now is a known quantity. I understand what the Scriptures have to say about the idea of praying in tongues. I am vested in the relationship I have with my pastor and the elders of the church. I have made many fine Christian friends over the seven years I’ve been attending. If I jump ship and go to a new church, I run the risk of landing at a church that has no instances of spiritual gifts, or one that is dead. I have to focus on my own personal relationship with the Lord and not feel like I am “less than” the other believers in my church who seem to be practicing praying in tongues. I am so grateful for the leading of the Holy Spirit during this study. I pray that this post has been helpful to those of you who may have some of the same questions.