Pain and Suffering: Or how I spent the last four months.

I've been sick for about four months.  I haven't really been shouting it from the rooftops or anything.  I don't like to complain in public, but I've had an ulcer.  Basically, my stomach decided to spring a leak and give my pancreas an acid bath.  I guess I've taken too many ibuprofen in my last few years.  But, I have gained a huge benefit from this experience.

I've heard some of the cliche's that people put out there about sickness causing all sorts of re-arrangements of priorities, and life focus.  For me, not so much.  I've been nauseated for four months, and my body has been leaking acid all over itself.  Not fun.  I've been trying to make it minute by minute.  This is difficult with two jobs, a wife, a three year old and an infant.  Fortunately, I have an awesome wife, who understands that I have been in a lot of pain.  I've also learned to have new understanding and empathy for those who deal with losing their temper.  There's nothing like an internal acid bath to make you fly off the handle a little more quickly than usual.  

Prilosec did seem to get me patched up pretty well, and now I'm going through the appointments to make sure everything still works the way it's supposed to work.  The big thing for me though, is that part of me does not want to really go back to the land of the healthy.  I know that some people pray for healing.  Some people believe that it's God's job to heal you from your illnesses if you have enough faith. This is not really an accurate application of God's word.  I know that God is the great healer.  But, in this instance, I am grateful for the pain instead.  I am grateful for the thoughts that I may not live my life in pristine health.  I've been contaminated, broken, weak, scared and scarred.  As a Christian, maybe I need to spend more time being actually broken, instead of just talking about being broken to actually broken people.  

I've spent most of my life learning how to help people.  Along the way, I've become pretty entitled in my attitude.  It wasn't really intentional.  But my job is to have answers for people...for just about everything.  It had become a little too easy to tell people what they should think about, or how to think about their situations.  But you don't learn about struggling with someone by dispensing knowledge like that.  In my own suffering, I felt hopeless for awhile, because I knew that the situation was due to my overuse of headache medicine.  I knew that I had caused this to happen.  I found myself in a spot where I called out for healing, knowing that it was not going to happen in the way I wanted it to.  I knew that this was part of my own story and relationship with Jesus.  I've never really had to struggle in my health.  In this situation, the Lord is making me more like Him.  Why would I want to pray for Him to make me more of what I already was?  So I began thanking Him for the struggle, and looking forward to the process of growing my way out of this.  I began to confess instead of request.  The more I confessed the things that I was thinking about, the more I knew I was becoming the person He wants me to be.  

So, now I thank Him for the experience that so far, hasn't sealed my fate.  I'm feeling like I'm on the mend.  I feel so much more empathy for those who are actually suffering.  I know many people who struggle with health much more than I do, and I am inspired by their struggle.  I am humbled by people who are dealing with life changing illness, in a way that I did not really have an appreciation for, before being sick.  So maybe I did get a new focus in my priorities and life in general. 
I've also been playing this song on repeat...a lot.

Or here if it doesn't load automatically.

A Burden for Damascus

I have spent most of my adult life studying the Middle East.  I have done this almost every day, since the first war in Iraq.   I have intentionally avoided using social media for my beliefs about the Middle East.  I am a college teacher and a mental health counselor.  I usually try to avoid putting out any messages that would detract from my ability to be understood as one in the helping profession.  My friends are very diverse and have broad views of the world, history and the future.  But my friends know that I believe in Jesus Christ.  So I wanted to share my thoughts about the current events in Syria on my blog.  I feel that we should be praying for the residents of Damascus.   God has a burden for Damascus.  His burden is bigger than ours.  America is making choices to pursue actions it has not fully considered.  This is due to blindness among our leaders.  They have successfully fought so many wars that the possible unplanned consequences of war are not a deterrent.  God has given the world a tragic view into the future of Syria, and especially Damascus.  It comes from Isaiah 17.  I don’t know when it will happen.  Damascus is the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the Middle East.  It has never been destroyed like Jerusalem, Jericho, Babylon and Istanbul have been.  But according to the Bible, (Isaiah 17) some time in the future, in the span of one evening, Damascus will cease to exist.  This should cause great conviction among our leaders and among Christians.  I don’t know why Damascus is destroyed.  Some have said for years that Syria will attack Israel with unconventional weapons, and Israel will respond with a nuclear counter-attack on Damascus.  This seems to be one of the scenarios that Bashar Al-Assad is threatening in response to US action.  America does not seem to be considering this as a possible outcome of an attack, even though Syria has threatened it for years.   If the Bible is true, (and I believe it is) then we may be running headlong into the specific warnings that God has provided to us about the Middle East.  Events on the ground are pointing to the truth of Biblical prophecy in many ways.  Syria is one of these ways.  This makes me want to pray for Damascus and for all of my neighbors and friends.  The collateral damage in the destruction of Damascus would not be contained to Damascus.  The defensive scenarios of the world powers will not allow it.  It would quickly lead to the events in Ezekiel 38-39.  The bad news is that very old sin has infected the Middle East.  The good news is that we, as individual sinners have had our sins paid for.  This happened once and for all, for any who would confess their sin to Jesus.  Because of my relationship with Him, I choose to pray for my friends, my neighbors and those who are affected by the terrible events in Syria.  Pray that many more innocent civilians are able to escape, before too many more days pass.  Pray that peace will come to Damascus and that it will have many more years ahead.  Pray for the safety of the United States and for Israel.  Find someone here in America, who needs something.  Meet their need.  Give freely.  Tell them about the hope you have in Jesus.  When men’s hearts begin to fail because of the things happening in the Earth, they will remember that you have hope in Christ.

Progressivism is Bad

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately and I want to share some of the things I have learned about the concept of “Self-Help.”   So many people are focused on self-help.   Self-help has become the new buzz topic, and it seems like everyone who speaks or writes for a living wants to help you tap into your motivation to help you accomplish your goals, or dreams, or your best personal whatever you want to call it.  Self-help has become a parallel of psychology and counseling.  The interesting thing about self-help is that anybody can write about it, because they do not have to go through any educational requirements or state requirements for regulated professions.  Generally these folks have some sort of real life experience that they draw upon to deliver their content.  There’s always some sort of truth involved, and they leverage that element of truth to deliver the rest of their philosophy for their “Intellectually Licensed” material.  As long as they don’t call it counseling or psychology, they are free to say whatever they want without any worries of liability.  This is the benefit of free speech, and I am all for it.  However, the helpers usually indicate that their information is not designed to diagnose or cure anything and they cannot be held liable for your lack of success at using their intellectual material.  The problem with self-help is that none of their ideas are new.  They are repackaged versions of very old philosophies.  All of them are based on humanism. 

The social sciences are all founded on humanism.  What is humanism you may wonder?  It’s an umbrella term for several philosophies.  Modern Humanism began in the 1800’s as a response to the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution.  Western cultures decided at this time that they had it all pretty well figured out due to the new scientific revolution.  The lesson of the scientific revolution was that if it couldn’t be proven or measured, then it could not definitively be true.  The scientific method was a tool introduced to measure and observe the natural world and scientific hypotheses.  It was all about outcomes based measurement.  Several different models of humanism resulted from this time period.  Some of them include classical humanism, renaissance humanism, religious humanism, secular humanism and many more.  A common element between them is that man is the sole motivator for his destiny.  Another common element is that idea of outcomes based measurement for validating a theory.  According to the American Humanist Association,
“Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity(1).”
            I think this is a solid definition for humanism as a general guide.  Each of the versions of humanism has a specific application of this definition.  For example, secular humanism holds to the view that religions are based on beliefs and are not based on reasoning.  For example, Christianity is based on the Bible and it requires belief in the Bible as the foundation for truth.  Humanism believes that human reasoning alone is sufficient for understanding truth and ethics.  So they hold to the idea that the best test of human reasoning is that which can be tested by the scientific method.  They deny any involvement in views that hold to the Bible as a revelation or source of truth.   
Psychology came out of humanism.  Psychology is a study or science of the mind.  It is a study of humanity.  So since it is an attempt to study man and his ways of thinking, and it is a science, it is used as a tool to help people change (hopefully improving) the ways that they think and feel.   Mental health professionals implement a form of the scientific method to deliver the help that clients seek.  This is done through an outcomes based measuring document called the treatment plan.  It is measurable, and centered around the goals of the client.  The therapist is accountable to this document.  It serves as a type of contract between the client and the therapist.  Self-help comes from the science of psychology.  It is less regulated and does not require knowledge or professional accountability from the treatment plan model.
            America has bought into the scientific method and outcomes based measurement in the corporate world too.  Think about all of the leadership material that is published.  All of it is designed around learning about your strengths and abilities.  These published works all set out someone’s plan to help you plan out steps to make yourself a more focused influencer of other people.  These books are using behaviorism to accomplish their goals of improving your skills.  How many times have you heard some variation of the following messages?

            You can achieve anything you set your mind to…all you need is a plan to get there.            The only thing standing between you and your dreams is a plan.  You have the ability to change the world.  These are focused on the power of the individual.  They are based on humanism.  The problems arise when church picks these up.  There was not a treatment plan for crossing the Red Sea.  God provided manna from Heaven to feed the Israelites for forty years.  God provided the manna.  Their faith did not provide it.  In fact, God provided it while they were complaining to Him about having to eat it.  Jesus fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.  Over and over the Bible records the provision that God has provided.  He does not do it in a progressive way.  The Holy Spirit came down to the disciples on Pentecost in a event planned by God, not the disciples.  He empowered the believers to speak in the languages of the people who were passing by.  This was done by God as an example to the non-believers about God’s power to be God.  No human effort was required to help God accomplish His purpose of reaching out to the non-believers.  This is why God says that His ways are higher than our ways.  Our ways are progressive, and outcomes based.  His ways part the Red Sea, feed multitudes, and deliver His people to a place they had not yet planned to arrive at.  If we stop proclaiming God as God, then the Bible says that even the rocks would cry out His name.  Our human efforts always result in a form of progressive humanism.  In psychology, corporate leadership, self-help and government, our efforts are always creating more problems than they set out to fix.  This is the problem with progressivism.  It says that it is designed to improve the lives of the greater population, but it is the powerful that always come out on top.  Then they convince the population to rise up against itself to make up for the terrible actions of the leaders.  This is because it is the humanists who believe in behaviorism who are causing the problem.  The best problem for leaders to fix is the one they create.  This is the danger of progressivism and behaviorism.

            I would like to spend some time continuing to broaden my understanding of humanism and its contrast with faith in Jesus Christ.  I have a pretty good understanding already, but I recently finished writing a chapter on Altruism and Acceptance at my job.  This chapter also encompassed Narcissism and Entitlement.  So some of these concepts are rolling around in my head and I believe there is a great deal of relevant material to process related to Narcissism and Humanism.  I think it is interesting that Humanism holds the view that man’s ability to reason is sufficient for everything he needs, although his behavior dictates otherwise.  I believe this is why Humanism defines itself as progressive.  The belief here is that man can be progressively evolving into a better person.  The problem is that there is no definition for who gets to decide what “better” looks like, or what the “greater good of humanity” looks like.  I believe that Behaviorism, which is Skinner’s theory, holds the answer.  Behaviorism says that people are generally good, and can be helped to achieve their goal by modifying their behavior.  I personally don’t really like having my behavior modified by anyone but me.   The side effect of Skinner’s theory is that the ones with the most power decide what right and wrong look like.  I believe we are living in a time when the powerful few among us are using behaviorism to establish their version of right and wrong.  They do this through the messages that the media sends to us.  
Remember when the media said the Tea Party was “violent?”  There was no actual violence.  They said they were rioting, yet there were no riots.  They said they were angry, but when the camera panned the crowd there was no behavior to indicate anger.  It’s was a bunch of grandparents holding signs that said “I love The  Constitution,” and stuff like that.  Yet when the “Occupy” movement came along, they were called peaceful and spontaneous by the media.  Even after many young women were raped at the sites and they actually did condone violence as a legitimate method of social protest, they were being continually broadcast as mainstream and peaceful.
Interestingly, the easiest problem for a behaviorist to fix is the one that he creates, because he’s already got the prescription planned out.  He just has to convince the client or patient that this particular illness is the problem.  He has to redefine the illness in terms that the patient can believe in.  Then the patient does all the work.  I believe that the progressive leadership (not just American leadership) is attempting to rewrite history as they have indicated they need to do.  America is not the Soviet Union of the 1980’s.  But that is what the “Occupy” movement is saying.  America is the only place in the world where you and I have the opportunity to achieve our dreams.  We are not the slaves of the elite that the “Occupy” movement says we are.  I believe the “Occupy” movement is right about one thing though, and this is how they are able to reach the hearts of Americans today.  The problem with the Soviet Union in the 80’s and America today, is that both countries have been victims of Cronyism.  Cronyism is,
“The practice of favoring one’s friends, especially in political appointments(2).”
It was Cronyism that caused the Russians to replace their government.  The people in Russia knew that their politicians were living the good life on the French Riviera, while the common folks struggled to put bread on the table.  They saw the injustice of the elite, and they were correct when it came to Russia.  What we see today is the government sanctioning the few socialists among us to redefine America through the lens of what reshaped the Soviet Union.  They saw it work over there, and they believe they can control it over here more easily because of our uninformed press (through behaviorism).  However they just changed the name of the problems through the media and they keep it fresh and new each day.  They have called Capitalism the “failed policies,” instead of blaming Cronyism.  They would have to own the problem personally if they tried to solve the actual cause of the problem, which is Cronyism.  So they are saying that capitalism is the problem.  But I believe the distortion of Capitalism by cronies is what has caused us to get into the mess we are currently experiencing. 
            This method of changing history is the same method that someone with a personality disorder uses, in efforts to avoid responsibility for their behaviors.  It’s called externalization.  We are hearing each day that we are the victims of our unjust and unfair society.  The easily manipulated media and the campaign managers are creating (or behaviorally conditioning) a country full of victims who need the government to recue us from our evil society.  We need them to come save us.  Then the government helps us by bullying (crony capitalism) the very companies that you and I work for and contribute to, through our retirement funds each week.   This may have worked for the Soviet Union, but it is self-mutilation to encourage us to attack our own society.  Self-mutilation or self-harm is a form of coping skill that I have treated frequently in my clinical experience.  Self-harm can be cutting or physically harming ourselves on our bodies.  It is frequently done to remind the individual of internal wounds that cannot be fully understood or expressed.   It is our inability as a nation to identify where our internal wound exists, that makes us harm ourselves.  Because we can’t see where the hurt is located, we are told over and over again until radical elements pick up on it enough to progressively begin the treatment.
We are the only nation in the world where the government is: of, by and for the people.  We are the government, and we are Wall-Street.  We are all connected to both.  You cannot divide the family of America into class warfare groups and expect the nation to endure.  You will end up with cronies who win, instead of cronies who get voted out of office.  They are attempting to manipulate you.  They are doing it in the media. The method is called behaviorism, which is founded on humanism, which is a progressive worldview that lifts up man as his own god.  The consequence for this type of thinking is spelled out in the Bible as spiritual death.  But Jesus paid the price of spiritual death for you.  So what about you?  In whom do you place your hope?  Do you strive for self-improvement, which ends in exaltation of yourself and Narcissism, or do you place your hope in the only human to ever have the authority to walk into the throne room of God as heir to the throne?  He walked into the room with all the rights and privileges of the owner of the house.  It’s a house, which cannot be divided by any media or message or government.  He bears the scars of your sin on His body.  His wounds can heal your self-injury. (1 Peter 2:24)  He already knows what you need.



You Are The Therapy

     I want to do a little bit of self-disclosure for this blog post.  The most important thing I learned in graduate school was a very simple sentence.  I will never forget my professor Dr. Lawson saying, “You are the therapy.”  
     “What the heck did that mean?” I thought. 
     What he meant was that my therapy comes from my experience.   It also meant that what I learned from life would be the medicine that I would bring to people.  It stuck out in my mind because of the conviction in his voice when he said it.  At that time I had not really learned enough about counseling to know how much of a guiding principle this would be for me.  I knew that I was attending graduate school for counseling psychology because I felt God leading me in that direction.  I was also trying to hide the guilt from my past.  I was trying to keep it from my psychology teachers…I was a little paranoid.  I thought many times to myself that maybe they were on to me.  I just knew they were secretly diagnosing me.  Could they use their secret psychology powers to discover the things I had done in my previous college “experiences?”  If they found out would they think less of me as a Christian, or as a student?  Ok, that’s enough self -disclosure.  You might learn too much about me if you keep nagging me like this.  Ok, fine.  I’ll tell you.
     I became aware of a verse in Romans and it changed my life.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  I was immediately aware that Paul, who wrote this passage, struggled with his own sin, and he was a prominent writer of New Testament books.  If Paul could struggle with his own life story and be confident that God was using his life to point to Jesus, then who am I to say that God could not use my life to point to Jesus?  This made Dr. Lawson’s point hit home for me. 
     Now, as a therapist and as a teacher, I draw on my life stories to normalize what people reveal in therapy and class.  I don’t want people to be paranoid about my “secret psychology powers.”  The truth is I’m at least as broken as they are.  I have days where my wife tolerates me, and my daughter is not impressed with how I push her on the swing.  But one thing I have found is that just being genuine with my wife and my daughter works much better than trying to be perfect or trying to hide behind appearing to be perfect.  Also as a teacher, I find that people relate to my stories of having stuttering problems as a teenager (up until I was about 21 really).  They like to hear that I was suspended from college (twice, but who’s counting) for bad grades.  People appreciate a humble person who has learned from mistakes, more than they respect an egomaniac.   They would much rather hear that I was broken for several years, and then made a dramatic turnaround.  So when I talk about overcoming failure in college, the story doesn’t end in me dropping out of school.   I turned from my sinful choices, and then went on to make straight A’s throughout the rest of college and graduate school.  When I think back to my days of failure, it makes my current situation seem unreal.  How does a stuttering, kid who can’t motivate himself enough to actually show up to his classes, go on to make straight A’s in graduate school?  How does he become a licensed talk therapist and then marry a speech therapist?  Because… God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  It’s a much better, and more real story than the letters behind my name would lead you to believe.  Billy Barnett MS, LMHC.