The Goal, Attitudes and Dangers of Counseling

Counseling is neither easy nor simple. But the problems connected with it can be reduced to a minimum by carefully adhering to biblical directives.  Those who fail to do so harm themselves and reduce the possibility of being effective. Because it involves the welfare of others, how counseling is done is vital. Some, becoming aware of the dangers, withdraw altogether and disobey the command to restore one another. God will not allow that; He has called me to this ministry as a believer. Since I may not back out of the responsibility to counsel, I must learn how to set proper goals and objectives, how to develop appropriate attitudes, and how to avoid the many pitfalls inherent in counseling .

The ultimate goal behind all Christian activity, including counseling, is to glorify God. (Col. 3:23) Christians are never to be humanistic. In each endeavor, there is an overall objective that one seeks to reach in order to glorify God. What,then, is the overall objective of lay counseling? The Apostle Paul calls us to restore erring brothers and sisters to their place of usefulness to Christ in His church. (Gal. 6:1) Restoration to usefulness, therefor, is the objective of Christian counseling. Whenever you counsel another you need to ask, “How has his usefulness been diminished by his problem.” And you must not rest until usefulness is restored.

The goal of restoration ought to guide the whole of one’s attitudes and activities. The counselor counsels not to punish, or to expose the failures of another. He counsels to restore the person to usefulness. Moreover, with this goal constantly in mind, the counselor will  do what he is doing not only to help the counselee (as important as that is),  but also to accomplish other goals. It is perfectly correct to care for the counselee and to seek his well-being; apart from such caring in which the counselor may even “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice,” neither the ultimate goal (God’s glory) nor the overall objective (restoration) are possible. However, Christian counselors, unlike others, are not merely oriented toward the counselee; they want to honor Christ and, like Him, they also care about His body, the church. The welfare of the whole body is adversely affected by the failure of any part. Counseling, therefore, is not only an interaction between a counselor and one or more persons in a counseling room; it also interacts in any number of ways with the whole flock and all of its activities.

The one essential attitude, beyond caring for the counselee’s well-being, is having a spirit of meekness. This is an attitude of being humble and gentle. Such a counselor is not weak. Someone who approaches you in a spirit (attitude) of meekness can have a much greater impact than one who judges, or bullies, or makes demands. Whatever force he possesses is in his character and personality. In practice, he is the opposite of the person who would say to you, “Well, I see that you’ve been at it again,” or, “Well, I told you so.” Rather, you are more likely to hear him say something like, “I’m here to help you because you need it and because Christ sent me. I am not any better than you are.” Indeed, his attitude is expressed most fully when he says, “I’m helping you today, but who knows whether I may need your help next week?”

In Galatians 6, Paul wisely points to a phenomenon in counseling that is well known to us in other areas of life. A drowning man may also drown his rescuer along with himself unless the one doing the life-saving knows about this possibility and has learned the proper precautions to avert it. Many counselors, for example, have become involved sexually with clients whose sexual problems were the object of counseling. This phenomenon may explain Jude’s concern about showing mercy to others “with caution, hating even the clothing spotted from the flesh.” (v.23) One must despise and avoid the sin that has debilitated a counselee as he would the pus running from an open wound caused by an infectious disease. With all he does in counseling, he must take the utmost care to maintain a righteous condition so that he will not become a victim of the sinful condition of the counselee. A wise counselor will do whatever is biblically legitimate to preclude self-infection.

All counseling aims at change. Without this element, a person may be attempting to do something, but whatever that is, it isn’t counseling. In the word restore, a term that is used often in Christian counseling, the need for change is clearly implied. Something (or someone) that has lost its usefulness is changed (or restored) into something (or someone) that is now, as a result, useful for the purpose for which it was made. The counselor must determine what is it that must be changed? What will bring about that change? The goal of the counseling sessions is to find answers to these questions. There are a lot of sayings that have been written over the years about change, or lack thereof, but my favorite is Nothing changes if nothing changes.

In order to counsel effectively, the lay counselor must spend much time studying the Scriptures carefully so that he may minister the Word with accuracy and efficacy. The proper study of counseling, as of man himself, is the Bible.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

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A black sheep stands out from the flock. In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group. It seems nearly every family in America has one. The troubled child. A lightning rod of sorts. The center of attention. Always in the hot seat. The squeaky wheel in need of grease. Chances are, if you are the black sheep of the family, then you’ll know about it. Unfortunately for you, you were born as the runt of the litter and your family isn’t exactly pleased with your existence. At the very worst, you’re the stereotypical black sheep – an alcoholic, drug addict, gambler, delinquent, and a constant disappointment to your family.

But not every black sheep is as dramatic as that, and it may just take something little for you to set off your family’s wrath. You may be an atheist in a family of Christians, unemployed, a party animal, have trouble in school. Maybe you got your high school sweetheart pregnant the summer you both graduated. All of these attributes can make you the black sheep, and make your parents wonder where they went wrong. However, being the black sheep of the family doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means that you’re different. You see things differently, have you own opinions, and you’re probably the only one on your side, so it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Perhaps some of this sounds familiar:

  • Your parents were more strict with you than they were with your other siblings.
  • Your mistakes were blown out of proportion and/or punished disproportionately.
  • You always carried the feeling that you “didn’t fit in” with your family, and you didn’t develop strong connections with them.
  • You were mocked, ridiculed and/or made fun of on a constant basis.
  • Your family seemed intent on making you feel “deficient” and as though you were always fundamentally lacking.
  • You developed mental or emotional disorders, and/or substance abuse problems as a result of being scapegoated and overburdened.
  • Your family didn’t show any interest in who you really were as a person.
  • You were criticized, completely ignored, or or emotionally manipulated if you rebelled in any way.

The role we played as children and young adults in our families contributes immensely to our present sense of self-worth, feelings of social approval, and our psychological and emotional well-being at large. If you’re like me, you may have got stuck in a role that undermined your sense of being a fundamentally “good” and “acceptable” person deep down, something that still affects me to this very day.  You may find yourself identified as the trouble child or the black sheep of your family, and this may cause you a lot of shame and depression in your life. Families often focus on the behavior of one child who seems to struggle with behaving properly. Dysfunctional families tend to avoid their own internal pain, disappointments and struggles by pointing the finger at another family member as the cause for all the problems they experience.

I took a class on marriage and family last semester at Colorado Christian University. The core textbook for the class, The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home (Balswick & Balswick, 2014), indicates that it’s critical for children to develop into their own unique selves within the context of family unity. Family scientists and counselors refer to this as differentiation – the process of maintaining a separate identity while simultaneously remaining connected in relationship, belonging, and unity. Another way to describe this process is interdependency.

Balswick & Balswick believe that family relationships involve four sequential (non-linear) states: covenant, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. Covenant has to do with commitment to family members, and hinges on unconditional love. Grace involves forgiving other family members and being unforgiven by them. Certainly, from a human perspective, the unconditional love of God makes no sense until we look at it through the eyes of grace. Grace is truly a relational word, and means unmerited favor. John Rogerson (1996) takes the understanding of grace as a natural extension of convenant love and applies it to family life. He believes the family unit to be “…structures of grace…social arrangements designed to mitigate hardship and misfortune, and grounded in God’s mercy.”

Family relationships, as designed by God, are meant to be lived out in an atmosphere of grace, not “law.” Family life based on contract leads to an atmosphere of law, and is a discredit to Christianity. Christ came in human form to reconcile the world to God. This act of divine love and forgiveness is the basis for human love and forgiveness. We can forgive others as we have been forgiven. It is the love of God within that makes this possible. Of course, humans are limited and fallen. We can never fulfill the law. Thankfully, we are free from the law because of Christ’s perfection and righteousness, which leads to our salvation. When it comes to family relationships, none of us can expect to measure up. In a family based on law, the members demand perfection of one another.

Shame is often born out of a fear of unworthiness or rejection. When shame is present, family members put on masks and begin to play deceptive roles before one another. Children who experience the wrath of a parent on a nearly daily basis try to escape that wrath by employing various avoidance behaviors, such as lying, hiding, and deception. However, when family members experience convenant love, grace, and empowerment, they will be able to communicate confidently and express themselves freely without fear. Typically, family members should want what is best for one another. There must first be an atmosphere of unconditional covenant in the family, as well as open communication and honest sharing without the threat of rejection.

Inasmuch as all family members are imperfect, each with their own individual temperaments and experiences, they progress at different rates in the realization of God’s ideals of unconditional love, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. That is to say, all family members fall on a continuum between hurting and healing behaviors. When families choose hurting behaviors and move away from God’s way, the entire family will be negatively effected. Among the hurting behaviors in a family environment are conditional love, self-centeredness, perfectionism, fault finding, efforts to control or punish others, unreliability, denial of feelings, and lack of communication. With such behaviors, the focus is on self rather than on the best interests of the other family members. When children are raised in this type of family, they are limited in their ability to love others unconditionally.

Hurting families tend to withhold grace, often demanding unreasonable perfection, and blaming those members who don’t measure up. Individuals in these families fear they will make a mistake and be rejected because of failure to meet the standards. So they try harder to be perfect. What they need is acceptance for who they are, and forgiveness when they fail. Members of hurting families are typically not able to get in touch with their feelings. Their fear of rejection keeps them in denial of their emotions. What they need most is a safe atmosphere in which they can express their feelings, thoughts, wants, and desires, and be heard and understood by the other family members. Open communication helps each person share more honestly rather than hide feelings and thoughts.

A child who was loved conditionally (with strings attached) needs to experience unconditional love in order to feel lovable. This would go a long way to break the perpetual cycle found in hurting families. Such a breakthrough is predicated upon receiving God’s unconditional love. Being cherished by God no matter what you’ve done gives you a sense of self-worth and a new self-perception. (“I am lovable!”) Drawing on the Holy Spirit and maturing faith, the individual now has reason to follow God’s example and adopt healing behaviors. Living in covenant love is a dynamic process. God has designed family relationships to grow from hurting to healing behavior. As families accomplish this, it helps family members to eventually reach out to people beyond the boundaries of the family.


We know what the black sheep of the family looks like. He’s the “bad” guy who gets in trouble all the time at school, and later with the law and society in general. The “wild child” with poor impulse control who begins abusing drugs and alcohol. Someone who tends to embarrass the family by making all of the family secrets apparent to the world. Obviously, the family can’t be that great if little Stevie ended up drinking and drugging and spending three years in state prison, right? No matter what the family does to undo that image, there’s always Stevie to contend with. And how did he grow up so “bad” if he came from such an upstanding family?

Black sheep are basically scapegoats raised by parents who have a particular issue with morality. Either they are rigidly moralistic and can’t abide the slightest infringement of the rules, or they are unable to own their own mistakes and shortcomings. They tend to project these issues onto one of their children, seeing that child as wrong, “bad,” immoral, or evil. Often, the child will take on the bad, swallow it deep down into the unconscious, and then work really hard to be “good.” However, having not been empowered by his parents, such a child is typically incapable of self-control.

In this type of situation, parents unwittingly react to the challenge of controlling the bad child by talking to the child. Unfortunately, this makes him feel as if it is hopeless to even consider changing. Perhaps the parents are sincerely worried about what’s going on, but they don’t recognize the unconscious projections that are occurring in the home. They might even show him affection during this talk. They look him right in the eye with a sincere worry about what might happen to him if he doesn’t stop. The child, again taking on the emotional content of the conversation as if it belongs solely to him (as the empathic scapegoat child generally does) assumes that not only is he bad for upsetting his parents, he must be really hopeless if his parents are worried.

We can’t change the past. Our childhood experiences have shaped us into the men and women we are today. Both the good and the bad parts. What we can do, however, is change the way we view our past. It is important that we make sense of our life story. We need to think about experiences in our past, and how these experiences have shaped the actions we take today and in the future. By linking past experiences to our present, we’ll be able to better understand the motives behind our actions, and move forward in such a way that that our past, while remaining an integral part of ourselves, doesn’t define us for the rest of our lives.

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Anxiety, Depression, and the American Adolsecent

The cover story for Time magazine, November 7, 2016, by Susanna Schrobsdorff, tells of American teens who are anxious, depressed and overwhelmed. Experts are struggling over how to help them. Schrobsdorff’s article is strikingly titled “The Kids Are Not All Right.” The article begins with the story of Faith-Ann Bishop, who was in eighth grade the first time she cut herself. She took a piece of metal from a pen and sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood and a sense of deep relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” she said. “For a while, I didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”

Faith-Ann indicated that pain from the superficial wound was a momentary escape from the anxiety she was fighting constantly, about grades, about her future, about relationships, about everything. For Faith-Ann, cutting was a secret, compulsive manifestation of the depression and anxiety that she and millions of teenagers in the U.S. are struggling with. Some experts say self-harm among adolescents is on the rise. Self-Harm Increasing Among Youth.

As Schrobsdorff indicates in her article, adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. Sometimes they are called spoiled or cuddled or “helicoptered.” But a closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering. According to the Time article, anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since 2012 after several years of stability. This is a problem that cuts across all demographics – suburban, urban and rural; those who are college-bound and those who aren’t.

It is very alarming to learn from Schrobsdorff’s article that in 2015 about 3 million teens aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.) More than 2 million reported experiencing depression that impaired their daily function. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 30% of girls and 20% of boys – totaling 6.3 million teens – have had an anxiety disorder. Even more alarming, Schrobsdorff reports that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment.

These adolescents are, according to Schrobsdorff, “…the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.” Schrobsdorff also reminds us that “…every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident.” Faith-Ann Bishop told Schrobsdorff, “We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all. We’re all like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are today.”

Other Concerns Not Discussed in the Time Article

From a distance, depression can seem like no big deal. After all, who doesn’t feel a little down in the dumps now and then? But depression in America is a big deal, and, according to the CDC, it is projected to become an even bigger and more serious issue in the next four years. CDC Mental Health Report. Mental illness is defined as “all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.” Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5%) experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13 to 18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8 to 15, the estimate is 13%.3. Mental Health By the Numbers, National Alliance of Mental Health.

Although adolescent depression may not differ significantly from adult depression, the adolescent brain is different, and it seems possible that these differences may affect teenagers and their responses to depression. Teenage propensity for risk-taking and poor decision making can turn untreated depression into a dangerous game. A study released by researchers at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests that depressed teenagers are more likely to self-medicate with marijuana and illicit drugs. Depressed teenagers are almost twice as likely as their non-depressed peers to become psychologically dependant on marijuana.

The White House study also suggested that use of drugs like marijuana can make depression worse. There was a higher percentage of youth with a major depressive episode in 2014 than in each year from 2004 and 2012 – similar to the 2013 estimate. Youth who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year were more likely than other youth to have used illicit drugs.

When adolescents are depressed, they have a tough time believing that their outlook can improve. But professional treatment can have a dramatic impact on their lives. It can put them back on track and bring them hope for the future.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK.

“Be the Change That You Wish to See in the World.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

There are a great number of professions whose novices hold the same sentiment: I want to make a difference. I want to change the world. This is true of junior senators, rookie police officers, young law school graduates, teachers, mental health counselors, pastors, nurses, and many others. Reporters are motivated to make a positive impact on society. They live to be first with the basic facts of a newsworthy development. I read a comment from a reporter who said, “When you can look at all the dots everyone can look at, and be the first to connect them in a meaningful and convincing way, that’s something.” That’s exactly what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did when they cracked the Watergate case wide open in June of 1972.

Writers and poets also hope to make a lasting impression on the world. Dylan Thomas said, “Some people react physically to the magic of poetry, to  the moments, that is, of authentic revelation, of the communication, the sharing, at its highest level. A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.” The questions raised by Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mocking Bird were part of a conversation that echoed around the country. It’s a conversation that is still going on in America in 2016. The book endures because people can relate to it in so many different ways. It’s about race. It’s about prejudice. It’s about childhood. It’s about parenting. It’s about love. It’s about loneliness. Atticus Finch understood the importance of being the change that you wish to see in others.

Although Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me is a worthy sentiment, what I am speaking about has more to do with what God is producing in me than what I am producing on my own. When we get outside of our production mindset, we’re able to look at what it means to “bear fruit” with fresh eyes. This phrase does not refer to our own good deeds, but rather speaks about the fruit of the Spirit that God cultivates within us. To “bear fruit” means for a thing to reproduce that which resembles its very essence. More importantly, the thing can only produce more of the thing itself. To put it another way, we cannot effect positive change in the world from a position of darkness or weakness or selfishness. Our desire to change society must be rooted in a wish to improve life for everyone, not to change the rules or circumstances to serve our own interests.

Our good works are not the purpose of our calling. Our calling is not defined by the earthly outcomes of our efforts. No, our calling is to bear fruit from above: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) It is primarily in this way that we are made useful in the work of justice. The Bible never speaks of our role in the pursuit of justice and restoration outside of our relationship to and with God, because there is no such thing as justice outside of God. This is why it can be so exhausting and infuriating for us, and potentially destructive for those we think we’re helping, to pursue justice separate from God.

It is right to want to make a difference. To improve things. Those of us who have found a solution to self-centeredness then find it possible to grow more Christ-like. Of course, this needs to happen before we can find our calling or purpose. It truly does feel good to stop living a life of thievery, manipulation, deception and bullying. It is freeing to stop judging others and using others, and start looking toward Christ for our identity. Some will tell you that turning your will and your life over to God will make you a non-entity. Some kind of automaton. Let me assure you that is a lie from the devil. It is liberating to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.

Calling is not a code to crack. God is not holding out on us. We won’t find fulfillment in achievement. We’ll find peace when we understand our purpose is not to seek justice, but to become the type of people who want to seek justice. You don’t need to graduate, start that non-profit, get that job offer, or wait for the kids to leave the house in order to start making a difference. You can be the change you wish to see in others. So yeah, let it begin with you.



I thought I could hide my face; that
outward declaration of what I am thinking,
or who I truly am inside. I stand at the bathroom mirror,
not thrilled to catch my eye.
See those two vertical lines between my eyes?
This is an indicator of just how hard I am on myself.
I have a difficult time believing I’ve done any good
at any time since the moment I first drew breath.
Then I notice a faint third line right down the middle of my nose.
This is the supposed marker of a perfectionist.
As I stare at my face, I notice two deep lines below my nose and
on either side of my mouth; a telling giveaway of prolonged sadness,
a companion of mine for longer than I can remember;
one of interminable duration.
My doctor said horrible, puffy eyes could be evidence of weak kidneys.
Most inspiring to me, however, are the nasolabial folds that extend
from the sides of my nose down to the corners of my mouth;
these are an indication that I am on the right path,
living an authentic life. They prove I’m heading in the right direction,
fulfilling my purpose in the world, moving ever closer to being the
man God chose me to be the moment I was born.

©2016 Steven Barto

Not As Likely As Dad

I don’t always post this type of comment on my blog, but for some reason it felt very fitting. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, especially if you’ve read my ABOUT PAGE, you’ll understand where these thoughts and emotions are coming from. I opened up Facebook earlier, and was faced with the Daily Question: What’s On Your Mind? Well here’s what’s on my mind today.

What’s on my mind? The election made me think that I initially registered as a Democrat. I did this mainly to get my dad’s goat! I figured there was no way I was going to be like him. For those of you who have known me over the years, this is a true statement. I have never been like him. I have never been as responsible as him. As judicious as him. As hard working as him. As fair-minded as him. As honest as him. As respectful of others as him. As organized as him. As principled as him. As good at picking friends as him. As good at picking a wife as him. As good at picking the right fight as him. As good at learning to live without as him. As good at protecting your reputation as he was. As careful with my money as he was. As likely to pay a bill on time as he was. As good at balancing a checkbook as he was. As likely to establish and stick to a monthly budget as he was. As good at preparing for “terrible times to come” as he was. (We still have the Faraday Cage!) As likely as he was to always look a person in the eye when speaking to them. As likely to save things that are important to you. (Poor Yoda!) As quick to realize that sometimes we need “a little push,” and we should not take the nudging of others personally when we get that push. When a “son” in his mid 50s, the oldest of four siblings, realizes how unlike his father he has become, and then realizes he might not have a lot of time left in his life to work on these numerous failings or, if you prefer, character defects, that son begins to panic. But, when that “son” finally aligns his will with God’s will, and begins to acquire not only some of his father’s character traits, but begins to acquire some of the traits outlined in 1 Corinthians 13 (The Love Chapter), that “son” begins to focus on what he can become and what he is becoming rather than what he could have been. It all starts with having a fine example of a father to model yourself after in the first place. Thank you dad.

Appalachian Trail

It was the spring of 1948, and a young man from Pennsylvania had to work out of his mind the many sights, sounds, and losses he experienced during World War II. He took a hike. For four months. On August 5, 1948, Earl Victor Shaffer became the first person known to hike uninterrupted the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia through thirteen other states to Katahdin in the central-Maine wilderness. He covered more than 2,000 miles of footpath created in the 1920s and ’30s by volunteers and maintained by volunteers ever since. Earl Shaffer, a woodsman, naturalist and poet, went on to become one of those volunteers with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and worked with the Conservancy to secure federal protection for the Trail, which is now part of the national park system.

The Appalachian Trail, in 1948, had reached a critical point in its history. Maintenance had lapsed in many areas during World War II, with many active workers serving in the armed services. Storm damage, logging operations, and natural growth had erased or cluttered much of the trail. Marking was often faded or gone. The famous footpath seemed on its way to oblivion. Even the people who had done most to bring the Trail to tentative completion a few years before the war were doubtful about its future. With this in mind, a meeting of the Appalachian Trail Conference was set for June of that year at Fontana Village in North Carolina, to rally the member groups and individuals for an attempt at restoration. While in session, the Conference received by mail a message informing them that Earl Shaffer had started from Mt. Oglethorpe in Georgia April 4th, and was now passing through eastern New York State, and was expecting to reach Katahdin in Maine about August 5th. That was a total of four months to cover the 2,050-mile journey.

I have always wanted to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. I’m sure this is true because of extensive camping growing up. When we started camping as a family in the late 1960s, we used a tent. At some point, we graduated to a pop-up camper. We then progressed to a single-axle camping trailer, and ultimately a double-axle unit. I remember a camping trip one year when I was the last one to wake up and come out of the camper. My mother asked me what I wanted for breakfast. Still half asleep, I said, “Beggs and ‘acon.” Mom said, “What?” I said, “I mean ‘acon and beggs.”

As for wanting to hike the entire trail, there’s much I would need to do in order to remotely guarantee I’d survive. First, I presently weigh 247 pounds. Not the most I’ve ever weighed (261 pounds), but far from trim enough to hike for four continuous months. Second, I truly cannot afford the gear I’d need. Hopefully, that, as well as my weight and BMI, will improve before I face the third factor. My age. I understand that much of the Trail is quite treacherous and often rather steep. Indeed, the “easiest” part of the Trail is in Pennsylvania.

I watched the movie “A Walk In the Woods,” based on the book of the same name written (as experienced) by Bill Bryson during his attempt to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. Check out the trailer for the movie at Neither Bryson nor his hiking companion were spring chickens when they undertook their adventure, which was somewhat comforting to me given my yearning to tackle the Trail in my late 50s. I will admit that the idea of a huge backpack hanging off me for four months is particularly troublesome. In any event, if I am ever in decent enough shape to hike the Trail, I’m certain I will not be going in the dead of winter, nor in the heat of the summer. Hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine is on my bucket list.

Excerpts from the book “Walking With Spring” by Earl V. Shaffer.

For more information about the Trail click on the link

4 Steps to Accepting Your Past Mistakes and Forgiving Yourself

This post on accepting your past mistakes and forgiving yourself is very powerful. It fits right in there with a lot of my posts, so I decided to share it with my followers. If you’re as moved by it as I am, please visit

Addicted 2 The Chains

Forgiving yourself can be a tough one because the person who feels angry, and the person you’re angry with is the same person – YOU!  We get stuck in self-judgment.  We can’t let ourselves off the hook.  Maybe we betrayed our own integrity.  Maybe we betrayed someone we love.  We think we are bad and we don’t know how to get over it.

The-Four-Myths-of-Self-Compassion1) See your own innocence.  Close your eyes and imagine your childhood self.  See how innocent that child is?  If they did do something wrong – they didn’t do it on purpose!  Their intentions were pure.

They are beautiful.  Sweet.  Loveable.  In your higher self, take them in your arms and hug them.  Give them some of the love they never had.  Drink it in for a while.

2) Understand and Accept.  Close your eyes and imagine the you who did something you’re not proud of.

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Live The Truth (Or Die From The Lie)

The origins of self-deception run deep. We have to unravel our web of lies if we are ever to find our way back to the people we were put on this earth to be. We all tell ourselves lies; we all have buried the truth from time to time. Our lives become more and more inauthentic. Human beings have a reflex reaction to psychological pain not much different from reaction to physical pain. We withdraw from it. Indeed, we use many “defense mechanisms” to distance us from bitter reality. We repress our emotions, we rationalize our behaviors, we distort the memory of past events. Chief among these mechanisms is denial, in which we unconsciously ignore distressing facts about ourselves or others.

I studied psychology at the University of Scranton. Life interrupted my education after three semesters, and I am returning to school next September to complete my studies. I noticed during some of my earlier college classes that many psych patients were asking for Zoloft or Paxil or Effexor or some other anti-depressant drug almost immediately upon beginning therapy. Some of those patients were searching for a way to cover up or gloss over the trouble they were having in their lives instead of working to get to the bottom of it. The impulse to keep our truth and our pain hidden is among the most common, powerful and toxic elements of human nature.

So how do we get the tapes playing inside us to stop? You know, that pesky rambling in our mind that tries to convince us of how unworthy we are. For example, to find the self-esteem we need in order to live full lives, we have to look back to when and how we were first deprived of it. Today’s symptoms are usually being fueled by earlier chapters in our life’s story that we are unwilling to read. If we do not open them and learn what set the stage for suffering, no medicine will be powerful enough to keep our anxiety or depression away for ever. That is something that’s just not doable. Please note that the function of pain is to tell us there is something we must do. Living a “medicated” life will not yield permanent results. This is true about drugs as well as alcohol.

The examined life is worth living. Ignoring the facts of one’s life, especially the painful ones, only puts the negative patterns unconsciously fed by these issues more in command of one’s future. As Carl Jung wrote, “That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our life as fate.” You can’t outdistance the past. The truth always wins. Digging deeper for the truth begins like this: You start by identifying what trouble needs healing in your life right now, then you journey back into your life story to see the early conflicts that set the stage for it. Your vision will be clear only if you look directly and deeply into your pain. Never away from it.

This is a big part of why alcoholics and addicts cannot get sober without putting down the drink or the drug. It’s impossible to see clearly. Too much fog. Too many compromised memories. Getting drunk takes away one’s ability to see with any clarity the resulting consequences of alcoholism. Heavy drinking doesn’t only make your face go numb. It dulls your senses, seemingly insulates you from fallout, and compromises your judgment and reaction time.

How this really works is you must identify what you need to address at this moment in order to live a more powerful life. Identify what part of your past you need to look at more closely. Edit out the fiction. Remember, the biggest thing that stands between you and your buried past is fear. It is because of this fear that we tend to live behind shields. Problem is, if we keep trying to dodge the truth, it gets harder and harder to avoid the day when that truth surfaces and slaps you hard in the face. If you keep hiding behind your coping mechanisms, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, excesive eating, or too much sex, you’re going to get blindsided.

Emotional defenses we use to obscure the truth end up obscuring the miraculous qualities that lie beneath those defenses. Qualities such as God-given courage, compassion, empathy, devotion, trust, and (most importantly) the capacity to love. We build impenetrable walls that keep emotional pain at bay. Common to all these walls is the fact that they cover up the truth. Here’s the kicker! Guess who’s standing behind these walls holding them in place? You are, of course. And the walls get heavier with each passing day. Holding up these walls saps your energy. It steals your focus. As long as you’re holding up these shields, you’re living in fear.

I had to think about what some of these walls might be that I’m holding up? Overeating, especially comfort foods. Overspending, usually so I can Look the Part. Perfectionism or obsessing. Abusing drugs and alcohol. Physical pain. Internet pornography. Of course, these walls always mask my deeper pain. They prevent me from addressing core problems from the past that are actually fueling my need to erect walls all around me. Living the truth starts with simply paying attention to your wall-building strategies more than you have in the past. Ask yourself how often you use them. Then, begin to resist them.

It’s helpful to look back at your coping strategies and write down specific plans you can commit to in order to help you see yourself for the first time. As you might have guessed, you can use certain anti-wall-building strategies. Some of mine are cutting comfort foods by fifty percent, being thankful for the material things I do have (rather than being in a mad dash to buy more stuff), go for a fifteen-minute walk every day alone, continue a plan of abstaining from alcohol and mood-altering drugs, address my concerns of physical pain in my low back and take the medical advice given to me by my doctors.

Here’s something to think about. The fact that you will feel anxious or depressed or irritable while limiting your exposure to these things is a sign that you are detoxing from them. In order to anticipate, identify, and overcome your use of these walled strategies (whether old or new), you will need to keep track of them in a journal or notebook. Please remember, as you work to rid yourself of your walls, they will try to reassert themselves through fear. As you free yourself from the burden of holding up all these walls, the self-defeating half-truths and untruths you have told yourself (or others have told you) about your life will lose their footing in your soul.

Perhaps no fear is more universal (and more denied) than the fear of death. We refuse to feel the pain of being mortal. We act as though we have unlimited time to pursue our dreams or tell those we love exactly how we feel, or make amends to those we’ve hurt, or make peace with those from whom we are estranged. Most of all, we act as though there is no urgency to unravel the mysteries of our own life stories; to live examined lives. We have the chance to identify our real talents, pursue our real goals, experience well-being, and find real love. Just know this: We don’t have forever.

No matter how much we try to shield ourselves from painful events and themes in our lives, or to create fictional histories for ourselves, there’s one important fact to remember: The pain does not go away. Emotional pain is symptomatic of an original, underlying problem. Repressed emotional pain and interpersonal conflicts will color our communications with one another. Unfortunately, we bring to each moment every significant experience and relationship we have ever had. These experiences and relationships grow powerful underground roots and tend to contaminate our attempts to build new relationships. When our own history is not clear to us, we have little capacity to separate the present from the past. An unexamined life leads ultimately to chronic conflict.

We tend to automatically introduce our unresolved guilt, anger, fear, sadness, disappointments, jealousies and doubts into our new relationships. It takes being comfortable with conflict, not being drawn to it or afraid of it, to minimize its role in our lives.

Being willing to confront the truth about your life story, to face your pain and express what you feel about yourself, can not only change your life, but can literally save it. Some people are so determined to run for the hills rather than face their pain. They often resort to a variety of behaviors designed to distract themselves from it. If they don’t, they will literally anesthetize themselves.

Perhaps the most common failed coping strategy to avoid pain is to begin abusing alcohol or drugs. Alcoholics and addicts demonstrate a marked inability or unwillingness to confront the reality of their true life story, and explore its most painful chapters. They are literally choosing to use drugs or alcohol on a frequent, often daily, basis in order to escape the past and not feel. The toll this type of running from pain will take on the individual is simply not predictable.

The attempt to keep your pain buried deep within you will lead you to eventually resurrect it in one form or another. Again and again. Nothing can compete energetically with the demons we have stored away since childhood; we remember them, after all, with a child’s heart and mind. The toxic dynamics we have buried with them will retain some of the magnetic force many years after we dig them up again. Recognizing them as the old, burned-out demons they are is key to resisting them.

We can own our futures instead of being owned by our past. Learning from our pain, from which we’ve tried so hard to run, is indeed a true source of power. All psychological suffering, even when it comes with a label such as “bipolar disorder” or “OCD,” has meaning which is rooted somewhere in our personal history.

The human impulse to avoid painful emotional realities seems to be hard-wired into our nervous system. Running away now becomes a neurological reflex reaction based on suffering we endured in our past. People show the same avoidance of emotional pain. No surprise there. Of course, this deprives us of learning that the world can offer us as adults much more than what it did when we were children.

One reason it takes work to fight against this is that the human brain seems anatomically equipped to bury specific memories of what caused us pain in childhood, while “remembering” and reproducing the techniques we used to avoid it. Our entire being, our brain, our gut, our heart, and our five senses, are all trained by what we have lived through. We screen out certain events and perceptions, and screen in others. What we respond to and how we respond to it depends neurologically on what we have concluded about the world in the past.

There is no excuse for raping a woman, hurting your wife, beating your kids, being cruel to your family pet. The people who are most “together” in life may be the ones in the most denial about where they’ve been in their past. The person who hasn’t been willing to “forget” about what happened may be the one who is most obviously struggling with shifting moods, more prone to anger at others, or who is shunned by others entirely. All the anger, sadness and anxiety you may experience  has been inside you all along, kept buried by unconscious psychological stress and hurt that distracts you in present day. Coping mechanisms can be anything from drug or alcohol abuse, troubled or repeated relationships that never tend to go anywhere, compulsive eating, gambling, literally anything that takes your attention away from any bad feelings or disconnect you may be experiencing in your current life.

Of course, this is where I tell you that forgiveness and letting go is possible. It truly doesn’t matter how deep the cut you’ve experienced. Everyone has something in their past they thought would truly crush them. For me, it was ending up in county prison on a one-year-old bench warrant. Perfect! Icing on the cake. I was one week from being homeless when the state police picked me up, getting high every day, and starting to drink Vodka again. Twenty months of sobriety gone in one swallow. No way I’m going to live through this crap again. I was sitting in my cell, eyeing up the bare light bulb, and just about to take it out of the socket, break it, and slit my throat.

Then I called out for the guard. “Hey, C.O!” He came up to the cell door. “I feel like I’m going to kill myself.” He looked at me for what seemed like half-an-hour, then sighed. “Do you realize the amount of paperwork you’re gonna cause me now that you’ve said that?”


“What sort of future is coming up from behind, I don’t really know. But the past, spread out ahead, dominates everything in sight.” (Robert Pirsig, from “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.)



Victory Over Our Will

We need to have victory over our own will. Remember, if we leave the battlefield prematurely (that is, before the skirmish is won), we lose by default. Transition is painful. Take your stand and build an altar. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13) Watch your mind. Be mindful of your distractions. You can have faith in a lie if you are not watchful. Sometimes faith in God is better than receiving an answer. Remember, you can find the anointing of God at any level. Do not forget the power of worship. Practice your worship at all times, in the face of literally any circumstance. Give glory to God in all things. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, emphasis added) “And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:17)