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~ The Therapy of Family and Community ~

Cognitive and emotional challenges are needed for our development. Although a cliché, suffering is good for the soul. I learn much more from listening to someone who suffered than from the pontifications of people who were raised in materialistic and emotional environments that never allowed them to experience, either vicariously or personally, the sufferings of sin, oppression, false accusations or persecution for righteous or even unrighteous sake.

However, these suffering souls must have sublimated their pain into growth, or they are without wisdom, only bitterness and self-pity. These succumb to what could be termed the “therapy-reflex.” After the US attacks and devastation on what is popularly referred to as “9-11,” New York’s mental health practitioners prepared for a deluge of people seeking treatment for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.) The onslaught never came. Most people chose to resort to their spiritual practices, communities and loved ones for “treatment.” Good for them. They, however, did not escape the criticisms of others for not seeking “professional help.” That was a cultural and politically incorrect response. Can you set into place your own broken arm? Actually, yes. And if you can’t, it’s good to learn how.

We confuse pathos with pathology. They must be approached differently. How we treat calamity and adversity is guided by our world views and assumptions about the human condition. The therapeutic culture holds that catastrophic challenges are a threat to the fragility of people best handled by professionals.

We disenable our children and one another by promulgating the teaching that they are fragile and ignorant of how vulnerable they are to crises or even disappointment in their expectations of self and others, and so need professionals to rescue them. When doing that we are teaching self-absorption, which is antithetical to the teachings of Christ.

If we teach our children and each other to expect anxiety, sleep depravation, loss of attention to daily tasks, troubling dreams and the like, they will look for them and, of course, find them. They will say, “Yeah, you were right!” And if we continue in explaining such experiences are warning signs of post-traumatic stress or other pathologies, we continue to encourage their development and manifestation and will be “right” again. We then generate dependence from these people who think we are wisely looking out for their interests and mental health on professionals, wanna-be professionals or us.

During the First World War, England was smart enough to dispose of the pseudo-psychiatric term, “shell shock.” Give your reaction a label and you will believe the label as reality. Due to the British Army’s wisdom, fewer soldiers put themselves into that convenient box of being emotional and psychiatric disorder victims.

Although there wasn’t a counseling business in Jesus’ days on earth, counterparts existed in people of the ecclesiastic, spiritual and prophetic communities. Jesus tended to despise them and name them for who they really were. Instead, Jesus emphasized family and what was later termed “the communion of the saints” and “the priesthood of believers.” They were professionals only in the sense of their striving toward sanctification and holiness. And that involves suffering in some degree and form. But whatever the degree or form, sanctifying suffering seems to feel the same in our guts and hearts. When I wake up one morning with aching muscles from a previous day’s healthy activity I hurt just the same as when I wake up with sore muscles from sleeping on cold rocky ground on a camping excursion. But I rejoice in the first and bemoan the second since the first is redemptive and the second unproductive.

That makes me ponder what Mary might have said to Joseph upon Jesus’ birth: “Are we not more fortunate than the other pilgrims stuck in the courtyards of the inns? It must be cold, noisy and uncomfortable for them, huddled together. Here, we are blessed with warmth from the animals, the care and adoration of our shepherd friends, the angelic songs all around us, the intimate togetherness of our family, and the presence of the Son of Man conceived by the Holy Spirit. Such mystery and joy!”

We are preparing to celebrate the incarnation of the Great Physician, the Redeemer of not only our souls but our bodies as well, the Source of all life. The celebration is not about a historical event as much as it is about a present reality. Those of us fortunate enough to gather with loved ones and friends are blessed indeed. In this communion of the saints lies healing, reconciliation and union with one another as we celebrate Christ's union with us. Let us pray and remember those not so fortunate. And, if we are able, invite them to share with our families the mystery of the Immanuel, God-with-us.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
   in the Christian Faith ~

Spiritual Resource Services  © December 8, 2005

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