Noticing the Good in a Noisy World

We seem to be such a big-event oriented society.  I wanted to write about the benefits of noticing and giving thanks for the smaller good things in life even after experiencing a big-event -- like Easter.   Easter is always such a busy time;  such an important time for Christians.  But I find that there is often so much to do.  The days can seem so busy, so “noisy”.  I wanted to understand how that busyness relates to reflecting subsequently on the emotionally positive meanings of Easter for us (and the “good” after other big events of life).  I was thinking about our family experiences in Norway in 1975 with Annen Påskedag, the celebration of Easter Monday.  Families rest, visit other families and friends -- and at least to some extent give “Thanks to God” for the gifts of life.

So, like a good card-carrying member of the 21st Century, into Google I typed “noticing the good in a noisy world”.   I assumed I would find suggestions online for knowing how to notice and think about all the positive things in life;  from the resurrection of Christ, to a cardinal singing his heart out in the cherry tree outside our window or a phone call from one of our children with fun news about their life.

Imagine my surprise when the first four pages of Google’s online response were filled with comments about my getting noticed by others in a noisy world, not my noticing and appreciating others in the midst of such busyness!   It this a metaphor for our changing world or what?!?! 

In my effort to untangle life’s busyness and find ways to notice, appreciate and show gratitude to others for the small stuff, I find advice for how to make myself a more visible part of the noise of life for others!   Rather than discovering suggestions for noticing and appreciating our God, I find advice for how I can be better known and appreciated by our God.   Hmmm.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised.  Take Easter for instance.  Even our popular songs about Easter describe parades, bonnets and finery of the day.  Since that was more or less the way it was, I don’t recall ever asking whether it was right to bring that kind of focus on me or my family in a sea of others doing the same thing.   Perhaps the books and other admonitions for “Getting Noticed” (and appreciated) describe the way the world has always worked and I might as well “get on board”. 

But I know from the volumes of research that what really brings well-being to us and those we care about is noticing and appreciating the good things that happen in the nuances of every-day life;  and expressing thanks.

Truth can be so contradictory.

Bruce

Social Graces, Gratitude, Thanks be to God, and Resilience.

The other day I was engaged in a great conversation with a couple of Lutheran Pastors.  We were talking about the power of gratitude expressed and received for enhancing the lives of people in a congregation.  One of the pastors said that she had read that our country is loosing an understanding of the importance of social graces.   She went on to wonder if not only may expressing gratitude be one of those disappearing social graces, but the loss may be much more severe than we realize.  

·      Might we need gratitude expressed and received in our lives in a way that we don’t really understand in a conscious manner? 
·      Is there something deeper, something really important emotionally and spiritually in us (humans) that is related to our sense of gratitude?  

This natural segue into the core of religion may be more powerful than most of us understand.   Who out there has some reflections on the psychological/spiritual relationship between truly meaning our common expression “Thanks be to God” and our own sense of resilience in the world as we age? 

We know that the psychological benefits for us of expressing gratitude to a friend are dependent in part on the willingness of our friend to show appreciation for our expressions of “thanks”.  How does this important reciprocal dynamic play out as we “Thank God for ‘the meaningful’ in our life”?

Bruce

Church and the Common Cold

My wife and I have had a very annoying cold for many days.  We have forgone church for weeks because of concern about giving our symptoms to others plus not feeling like a normal person anyway – or some such miserably indescribable feelings.

The issue with a common cold is many-sided.  Not only does it feel crummy to feel crummy, but we receive few redeeming notes of empathy because, well, hey, it’s just a common cold. 

But when we are out of sorts like this, we tend not to notice the ordinary things in life that can give us good feelings; 
  • the comfort of the lay of our cats in front of the fireplace, 
  • the delightful arrival of the first robin on the yet bare ground of what might be spring, 
  • our appreciation for the special attention to careful packing of our groceries at the supermarket by a caring check-out person, 
  • the mirror imaging of a smile from a passerby, 
  • the upbeat feelings from a delightful song of our childhood being played on the radio, 
  • or an appreciated message of grace from the Bible. 

These ordinary things of life that make daily life worth living, can all seem to hide, unseen, behind the hum-drum of a stuffy-head-focused frame of mind. 

Staying away from church precludes numerous opportunities for smiles from pew-mates, greetings from friends, chuckles from a neighbor, wisdom from the sermon, singing, praying  and reciting with the congregation – having a sense of being secure in the “Body of Christ” during communion.    All are freely available for just showing up.  But alas, mood and discretion keep us away.

Expressing gratitude is perhaps our most powerful way of enhancing our own health and well-being -- through the process of thanking others.  But if we don’t put ourselves in the probable pathways of good things happening, say at church, how will we know when to share our thanksgivings? 

Positive emotions from observed beauty and grace and from gratitude expressed are events that could have helped our bodies fight the infections of colds.  But ironically those low life cold symptoms are what kept us from noticing the very things we needed most for our recovery.

Our ability to notice the good in our life was reduced and as a consequence our time for recovery was lengthened. 

At least today we have an “I’ve got a cold” excuse for our lack of noticing the good in life, praising God and finding well-being;  I wonder what our excuse will be next week if we miss church again?

Bruce

Irish Stew and Thanks Be To God
(and my wife)

This is a story of moving from feeling positive emotions for a delicious Irish Stew to gratitude expressed to the cook (and to God?) and then to new positive emotions for having done that.

This real-life story is an example of the way that expressing gratitude to a person who created some positive emotions can double (or triple) the positive emotions for everybody.  This process is strangely foreign to many of us. 

The important need is first to notice a comment or an event that made us feel some sort of positive emotions in the first place. Incidentally, positive emotions can include:  joy, contentment, delight, gratitude, serenity, relieved/relief, hope, worthwhile, interested, amusement (laughter), pride, inspired, love, awe, energized, inspired, passionate, satisfied, able, valued, appreciated, or competence.  

As we began a watch for positive emotions over the course of a normal day, we can begin to understand the myriad of comments from people and events of daily life that give us feelings of joy, or contentment or relief for instance.  Furthermore we will have started a listing of events worth expressing gratitude to somebody.
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The other evening I was in the kitchen covering the remaining Irish Stew that my wife had cooked for dinner.  The carrots, red potatoes, cabbage, and corned beef, all looked so good.  It made me smile with delight.  I could taste that great stew again in my mind.   Since I was working on my gratitude project for my Collegium class I thought that I would try the next step and tell my wife what it was that I felt and thank her again for the delicious dinner. 

As I told my wife what just happened during my kitchen clean-up, she smiled, thanked me for telling the little story (and for thanking her again) and then she made a humorous remark about gas.  We laughed together.  

As I thought about the whole incident a bit later, what first came to my mind was how glad I was that I had taken that extra two minutes to tell (with gratitude) the “covering the Irish Stew” story to my wife. 

In other words, thinking about what I had done to share the clean-up story and thank my wife, actually seemed to have been a stronger positive emotion event than just thinking about the good Irish Stew in the first place.  Furthermore, it made my wife feel pleased as well and gave us a focus for a shared laugh.

What if we were to do the same thing with God as something emotionally positive happens in life?   If we stop, and right then descriptively thank God for that event, can that expressed gratitude to God event becomes a more important positive memory than the original event that caused us “to give thanks to God” in the first place?  Try it and see?

Bruce 

Expressing Gratitude:  A Double-Edged Flower

According to the website, OpenBible.info,  (www.openbible.info/topics/gratitude) there are 72 Bible verses that address the topic of gratitude (thankfulness).  (There are only 57 on the topic of Grace and 60 on Prayer.)

But identifying importance based on counting something is a flimsy way of ranking anything that is truly meaningful to us as individuals.   For instance, the most meaningful things for me are my wife, my children and my friends.   And those are identified as having a Bible verse about them 25 times, 23 times and 31 times respectively. 

Yet, since this is a blog on the Church and Aging, it is comforting to know that issues of gratitude and thankfulness are well represented in the Bible -- and in my experience in Sunday School and listening to Sunday sermons. 

Ordinary surveys of what is important generally identify that gratitude is seen as an important virtue by most people.

Online (www.ask-oracle.com/personal-development/gratitude/) I ran across this quote that is more or less a reasonable summary of gratitude:  
     “Marcus Cicero, a Roman Philosopher, considered gratitude as the mother of all virtues – and wasn’t he absolutely right when such warm feeling is a beautifully authentic driving force for connecting people among themselves, and also the individual to the divine?  Gratitude brings to our hearts and souls a feeling of true appreciation, kindness and thankfulness, enlightening us with a blissful and friendly feeling towards the person [and our God] who deserves and awakened our gratitude.”

The world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Dr. Robert Emmons, says, “My research, and research by my colleagues, has linked gratitude to a host of psychological, physical, and social benefits: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, more feelings of joy, and a greater sense of social connection, among many others. … people are actually more successful at reaching their goals when they consciously practice gratitude.”

Why then, with such strong Biblical, scientific and personal support for understanding its powerful importance, does the conscious practice of gratitude seem so difficult? 

I recently discovered a clue during my work on a course for next fall in the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium (http://cvec.org/) with my colleague, Dr. Howard Thorshem.  Our tentative title is “Gratitude and Belief:  Noticing the Whole Picture.”  As part of our study and preparation for that course, we have been contemplating ways for asking our students to do something or other that will bring them closer to understanding the importance of gratitude. 

But as I started to think about what I was thankful for over the course of a day, I realized that I first had to go back and consciously notice what happened to me during a day that gave me some sort of positive emotions, say of joy, contentment, serenity, competence, satisfaction or hope.  Since I don’t do that on any sort of regular basis, I found it difficult to keep asking myself how I was feeling (emotionally) as the day went on.  But, when I finally settled into some sort of irregular but satisfactory routine, I was amazed at the variety of events that gave me positive emotions. 

It was only as I started gathering this list of meaningful and emotionally positive “events” that I was able to think about expressing gratitude.  But then I discovered that the diversity and the sometimes “non-human” source of my feelings of joy, love or delight caused me to ask, “To whom do I give thanks?”  

For instance, what do I do or to what person do I express my gratitude when a beautiful house finch alights on our patio railing for the first time this spring, or one of our two cats lovingly nestles into my lap and loudly purrs?   Who do I call when I feel so very content as I sit down in my chair in the morning with my coffee and newspaper?  The power of gratitude expressed is more clear when a wonderful smile from my wife makes me feel a sense of love, joy, delight, and awe all at once, or when I receive a much appreciated email from my daughter thanking me for accompanying my 17 year-old grandson on a five-hour tour of the Minneapolis Car Show last night. 

Yes, for the emotionally positive moments that come along without a direct human hand, I should probably stop right then and thank God.  Yet I rarely do that.  But on the other hand, I rarely stop my activities, turn and personally thank a person who has just done or said something to me at the grocery store that gave me a jolt of confidence, amusement or satisfaction.  

Yet, I know that in all cases such expressed gratitude would make a positive difference to me as well as to the person I thank (or to God as I thank him).  Sure, I do all of that at church, but it isn’t the same.  I can’t say that I feel that reciprocal sense of positive emotions as I push through the liturgy of thanksgiving while standing in the pews.  It’s not like the good feelings I felt a while ago after I wrote a letter of thanks to an older friend who had been in the lead of two Marine landings in the Pacific during WWII.

The other day, Howard and I had a wonderful conversation with an amazing colleague from the St. Olaf art department, Mac Gimse.  We were explaining to him that the power of “expressing gratitude” lies in its ability to make the person who you are thanking feel good – more appreciative about what she has done, perhaps – and it also ignites positive feelings in you for having said something meaningful to the person who had just done something worthy of your thanks.  Our friend Mac then said, “Wow, a double-edged flower!”

This “double-edged flower” of expressing gratitude is such an available skill for all of us.  And every time we use it well we start a ripple of good will in two directions.  So how do we get it started in church?

Bruce

Of Bakeries and Bookstores (and Churches?)

As I begin my reflections on the immense power of expressing gratitude to bring well-being to both giver and receiver, I want to share a little story.  A few years ago I was teaching a Cannon Valley Elder Collegium class on Retirement, Change and Positive Psychology.   We focused on the occasions in life that foster feelings of positive emotion – joy, contentment, satisfaction, excitement, etc.   It was usual in class for us to share stories of times when we “found” those positive emotions.  One class period I asked the students to share their stories about discovering “happiness” in our Northfield community.  After listening to their stories during class and reading the written stories of their discoveries, here is what I wrote back to all of the students:
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After class yesterday and again this morning, I looked over the notes I collected from your comments in class and your written comments about where you found “happiness” in the Northfield community.  I noted that two of the places a number of you mentioned were the Brick Oven Bakery, and the Monkey See, Monkey Read bookstore.

So today I went to both stores to express my gratitude to the proprietors for how they make our community a better place to live.  I told them a bit about our class and how you students had mentioned their stores for being especially welcoming  -- leaving us “shoppers” feeling good about ourselves and about life. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, my comments to the proprietors set off prolonged conversations.  In both cases, they thanked me back for my comments, smiled widely, and said almost identical words, “It is ironic that you say that, because I do this on purpose because…”   At that point their stories diverged. 

The woman at the Brick Oven Bakery said that before she went to college she worked in her local home town grocery store.  The owner was outgoing and loved people.  He would go out of his way to make his customers feel glad they came in.  He would call his customers by name when he could, and engage them in conversation.  She said that she was really impressed with what he did, and found herself trying the same approach – and discovered that the customers were friendly right back to her as well.  She grew to thoroughly enjoy her work because of the shared congeniality.  She never forgot those important lessons as she continues that welcoming behavior, in part because it makes her feel good too.

The proprietor at Monkey See, Monkey Read bookstore, told me that before he opened his bookstore he read some books about retailing.  One of those books told about the virtues of what was called “The Third Place”.  The first place is our home, the second our workplace, and the third is some place in the community (e.g. library, coffee house, barber shop, gym, garden shop, bookstore, [church]) where people enjoyed the other people there and would stop by for what author, Ray Oldenberg, called, “a more authentic and connected way of life”.

I’m intrigued by these two conversations that were prompted by your stories of finding “happiness” in a “Third Place”.

I write to you now, to thank you for the encouragement to engage the proprietors.  I urge all of you to do the same with the people in town who create good feelings for you.  Share your gratitude, your thanks, with people in stores and other places where people do something to make you feel welcomed, comfortable, authentic and connected.   You might tell them about our class and how you learned to notice where things happened that made you feel better about yourself and life.

I didn’t have to ask my two “retail” storytellers why they were so welcoming, it just came tumbling out with enthusiasm, but you might find that in some cases you need to ask, “why”.  Some may say, “Oh, I don’t know, it’s the way I’ve always been.”  But others may have a longer and more fascinating tale to tell.

Please let me know if you try doing this and the results.  I am very interested in your story.    In any case, there is no doubt that by sharing your gratitude you will make the people you compliment and yourself feel better!

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Now as I review this experience of several years ago, I wonder how our churches would fare in this kind of search?   Do our churches foster our positive feelings of being welcomed, comfortable, authentic and connected?  

There are several things that jump out at me now as I think about the these stories of welcoming and gratitude:
  1. First, I am struck by the fact that both of the proprietors said that they adopted such a welcoming and positive reinforcing process on purpose.    I have known some people over the years who seemed as though they grew up welcoming all people they ever meet.  However, I suspect that for most of us, expressing thanks and welcoming others is a learned behavior and we must make deliberate choices to do something enabling others to feel better about themselves and about life. 
  2. Second, I was struck by the reciprocity that their deliberate efforts to welcome others, to smile, to connect, to ask about their life, was reciprocated by the person(s) with whom they were speaking.   Herein, of course, lies the secret power of sincere expressions of thanksgiving. 
  3. Third, I will not forget the clear delight in the eyes and expression of those two retail proprietors and the quick response of thanks and story from them that came from my appreciation expressed and eagerness to listen to their story.  It felt rather spiritual. 

I rather suspect that there are some important lessons here for us church-goers who would like to see our church’s ministry grow.

Bruce

Full Disclosure as Entrée to Expressing Gratitude

In my last blog I promised to talk about the powerful double-edged benefits of expressing gratitude.  First, however I have a “full disclosure” confession, so that you might know my understandings about this topic before I launch into a discussion on the immense power of thanks-giving as mentioned so frequently in the Bible.  Three things:

First we humans are, by nature, social.  Myths from our culture about individualism are simply not true.   Yes, there is just one skeleton inside my skin.  That is pretty obvious but it is also deceiving, because a part of me is my brain, and in the mind of my brain live thousands of other people.  For that highly-populated me the most important people include my family, friends, and acquaintances, and my God.  Consciously and non-consciously those people from the past, present, and anticipated future, and God, continuously influence who I am and what I do and think.

Second who we are is, in a general way, also what we notice.   And what we notice tends to be what is meaningful to us now and what gets our attention.  Guides who help us notice what to be thankful for along our journeys are central to our mind’s storehouse of what is meaningful.  For example, parents and schoolteachers are among our primary guides for what to notice during the first 20 years of our life, as have been our pastors for our entire life.  But so too can parishioners at your church be your guides -- if you notice them and truly listen to them.  Those parishioners who have had cancer, those who have gone through divorce, the single mothers, the family members whose brother, or daughter, or husband have a mental illness, alcoholism, developmental disability, or serious illness or accident – they can be your guides.  They can share stories of the “whole picture” and help you notice the upsides as well as acknowledge the negatives of that journey – and walk with you on your journey along similar pathways.

Third, humans have a huge and critically important capacity for beliefs.  The things that are the most meaningful and important to us in life tend to be in one way or another our (today’s) beliefs;  for instance -- that our spouse will love us forever, that that other car will stay on his side of the road, that our God will always be there, or that the medical community will help cure me of my illness.  These un-provable beliefs then become a major influence enabling us to move through our world with relative confidence that all is well.   Incidentally, our beliefs generally support our expectations of a basic predictability of daily life. [Of course, broken beliefs can be a major cause of our despair.]

There is a fourth issue, but I struggle so with it myself that I hesitate to call it a “full disclosure”.  I grew up in a culture that strongly encouraged independence and a striving for “sizeable” personal accomplishments.  It took 10 years of reading research studies to finally come to grips with the undeniable fact that we humans are really social creatures.   But I still struggle with thinking that it is the “big” events, the marvelous trips, the major accomplishments that make life worth living.  Yet I now see accumulating evidence that it is the frequency of the small positive emotions over the course of a day that make a difference for our sense of well-being: the feelings of contentment from a purring cat in one’s lap, the joy of laughter with a family member, the gift of the sight of a loved one in the morning, the sharing of a compliment with a clerk in the grocery store, the prayers sent up on behalf of the family of a friend who is very ill, the receiving or giving of a “thank you”, the taste of delicious food, the excitement of an email asking for help with an important church activity, the lift from hearing about a success of a child or grandchild, the comfort of a good telephone conversation with a friend.  These and a hundred more positive events of daily life are all colorful balloons in the blue sky of our well-being.

Bruce

Cross-Generational Connecting Threads as Conversational Bridges

The other day I had an appointment with a 40-something member of our church to talk about gathering together the 200 or so older adult members of our church.  Our pastor had suggested this meeting between us, we older and younger members, so that together we might consider ways to include all older adults in some sort of older adult ministry in our church.

But as we got into our discussion, something else loomed large and we followed that new pathway.

It started as we talked about a written question to me from an older adult at church, “Why is it that disappointments and failures become much more intense as we grow older?”

As she had read that question earlier, my younger friend said that her first thought was,“But of course younger adults face more disappointments in life as they add up disappointments at work, in the neighborhood, at home, and with kids school.”  Older adults, she thought, surely have had more experience at dealing with difficulties and become wiser as a result, they don’t have as many diverse things going on in their life, and of course they have a pretty solid sense of “who they are”.  But then she read the reasons that I had collected from a sampling of older adults for why we older adults might resonate with that question about disappointments: 

  • It is disappointing to say good-bye too many times to different parts of our lives – our former selves.
  • My changed routines at retirement affect almost everything in my life.  My relationships keep changing again and again as my health fluctuates, or we move, or I don’t hear as well, or people don’t expect (as) much of me.
  • I find that what I said earlier, “That will never happen to me.”  is happening to me.
  • I find that the constant ever-changing health and mobility difficulties of friends, spouse and myself really affect how I think about the future.
  • I simply don’t have control over an increasing number of situations that affect my life.
  • Disappointments are no longer easy to put aside as they become part of my current identity – who I am now.
Interestingly, three different people each mentioned “time” in their response, but note how each addressed a different aspect of time;  this is a good illustration of our divergent perspectives!
  • I have less pressing business to do, so I have too much time to ruminate about stuff.
  • I know I have too little time left in my life to really fix things and so I don’t really try.
  • Time seems to have speeded up and I don’t really know how much time I have left.
My younger friend said, “After reading that list, I began to understand that it’s not just we younger adults who struggle with disappointments.  We all face disappointments, but for different reasons.  There are many connecting threads between the issues faced by older adults and younger adults.“

We then talked about some of those connecting threads.

For instance, there is a concern about relationships for both older and younger adults but often for very different reasons.  The younger adults are aware that divorce and separation are widespread in our culture and they can feel uneasy about their own relationships because of that.  Whereas older adults see relationships change dramatically because of mental deteriorations, or they see relationships end (physically) because of death.  Common concerns, different underlying issues.

In our culture, anxiety disorders are on the rise.  One sees it frequently in college students for instance.  With the young there is a widespread feeling that there are so many choices in life and “I have to do them all.” -- or at least try everything possible.  This frequently leads to overloads, overextensions and significant chronic anxiety.  When the young fall short because they committed to doing more than they have time to do they feel significant distress.  Older adults can find themselves with the same kind of overextensions and anxiety -- and disappointments.  But they tend to arrive at that point because they no longer feel they have enough energy or strength to do the number of things they did before.   Common concerns, different underlying causes.

Illnesses, accidents and disabilities such as mental illness, alcoholism, developmental disabilities or physical handicaps by one family member that can seriously disrupt family dynamics are as common for the young as for the old.  The influence in families of such difficulties can spread and for better or worse, over time, change a range of characteristics, emotions and behaviors of all family members.   Common concerns, and in this case, common underlying causes.

To notice that we older adults have much in common with the younger members of our congregations is to understand an important access to the potential healing power of cross-generation conversations about issues of (surprising?) common concern.   Such conversations-together can be seen as a bridge to hope and health.  Everybody benefits as young and old alike reciprocate in telling their story and listening with respect to the stories of others.  To know that other people that we respect, seem to understand and respect us (because they truly listen to us), is a powerful means of increasing everybody’s sense of well being.  

Bruce

P.S. To express gratitude for the sharing of stories that enable us to see how our common humanity is spread across lifetimes, is to add to our storehouse of resilience for facing each day and noticing the wonderful gifts of life from God.  But the power of gratitude-expressed is an issue for a future blog.

The Weeds, the Shore and God 



In this picture, the shore and the reeds/weeds are both parts of the same picture.  Their relationship is like life itself.   In order to reach the shore (a goal, a sense of well-being, etc.) we need to navigate our boat through the weeds.  For those of us who have actually moved forward through real weeds to reach a shore, we know how important it is to have a person in the bow of our boat to part the thickest of the weeds and help point out what may be the best routes.  The key, of course is in the conversation between us, the rower and the friend in the bow – you know then that you are not alone. 

In one such journey on a lake Up North, through the reeds on our way to a distant lake, my bow-friend gave signals of approaching shallow water, he helped part the waters – so to speak – and pushed off from trouble when we got too close.  But he also noticed an eagle high in the branches over our heads, a beaver working on his “house”, a red-winged blackbird with the brightest red wings I have ever seen, and an irregularly-shaped open field on a shore where he and his friends played baseball as kids.  He was a guide, a helper, a noticer, a friend;  he has been here before.   At no time was there ever a moment when the reeds and the shore were not contiguous parts of the same journey.

On the very day that the doctors told me that I too had aggressive cancer, and my wife and I were crying in anguish together over both having been diagnosed with cancer at the same time, there was a loud knock on the door.  As I, tear-faced, opened the door, a couple from upstairs came bursting into our living room and into our lives.  The woman, herself dying of an extended illness and the man, carefully pushing her wheelchair, threw their hearts and arms around us.  Yes they later helped us notice the joys, the sadness and the uncertainties of our journeys, but it was that evening in which they deliberately and abruptly crossed our emotionally-isolating barrier and listened with understanding ears to our fresh anguish that gave us strength in the months and years to come.  We were noticed and understood, in our row toward a then-distant shore, by friends who were a part of the same uncertain but alternating hopeful and distressing journey.

As we parishioners strive to sustain our own struggling church-home whose possibility for growth seems to be such a distant shore, or as we older adults open ourselves to the wisdom of others who have been traveling these journeys of change before us, we too can allow God to burst into our lives or sit on the bow of our boats to guide us through the weeds toward the distant shores. 

Every single one of our stories involves a belief.   A belief that God is listening.  How else could He have appeared as an empathetic older couple with a wheelchair giving us courage and strength.  How else could He have placed a friend on the bow to point out both the eagles and the shallow water?

To the extent that we believe – together – we can find new pathways to save our church or heal our cancer for now, and we will be open to the new routes, new hope and new possibilities as they happen.  Thanks be to God.

Bruce

HOPE IV:  Vulnerability, Commonality and Hope

This is the fourth of a series of blogs on Hope (hope for energy to do what must be done – together – to foster a creative renewal of our disappearing church).

So how do we get to hope from here?

Please keep in mind that our psychological reality and our religious beliefs are related to each other in our mind.  And our blended mind determines our sense of well-being.  So lets explore just a bit what else can affect our well-being in that mental mix. 

For older adults, change is a constant reality in our lives and with changes in our health, friends, family, and life circumstances comes uncertainty.  For us, doing things that can bring hope is a positive engagement with an uncertain future.  Hope for a favorable future as we face difficulties and uncertainty plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of our coping resources and our resilience.  And vice-versa;  our perceived effectiveness of our coping resources play an important role in our measure of hope.  Thus it makes sense that our perceptions of what our friends do that seem helpful as they too struggle with similar issues, can add to our sense of hope.

But to get to this point, it means that there must be a vulnerability of openness about our lives;  an openness to ourselves and to a trusted friend or family member.   It is in the honest, reciprocal sharing of issues involved in our changing lives that not only can we judge whether what another is experiencing is like what we are “going through” but, ironically, we may learn from that open conversation more about our own feelings as well. 

Vulnerability, Commonality and Hope.

In an earlier blog I mentioned that several years ago when I attended a church service in a Curenavacca, Mexico Catholic church, I noticed a disabled older Mexican man shuffling down the center isle on his way to his pew.  He had an intense focus -- his eyes steadfast on the looming, life-sized figure of Christ on the Cross ahead of him.  In his vulnerability, this man seemed to feel a commonality with his Christ.  It was my assumption, that this common bond of suffering, gave that old man an important sense of hope.

So too during conversations with others who listen to us with respect, we can all gain hope as we discover a healing energy within our common bonds of similar “uncertainties”.   Since positive emotions, like hope, are both healing forces and building forces, they allow us to open our mind, to see and hear what we may not have seen and heard before and to find the energy to open our arms and hearts toward new possibilities. 

If we are fortunate, we can find these life-sustaining open relationships among our family members, friends, professional helpers, and a belief in a God of grace and love.  But underlying this series on Hope is an argument for churches to foster a diversity of activities and programs that encourage older adults to seek out activities and ways of contributing that fit their capabilities and interests -- and in the process find meaningful, life-sustaining friendships. 

As I have pointed out many times, our positive relationships at church (including our relationships with God) affects our health, our well-being and our hope-filled energy to do what must be done -- together.

No matter how we construe faith and friendship’s separate beneficial natures, their neurological pathways in our mind are similar.  This is as important an understanding for our efforts to attend to a personal threat of cancer as it is for us to join together to address our disappearing church.

Bruce

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