A few years back I launched a huge back yard makeover project. I was determined to turn my dull back yard – which consisted of nothing more than grass – into an oasis for my wife and I to enjoy, as well as be a welcoming hangout for guests. While I contracted most of the work I personally did a lot of lifting, moving cinder blocks as I prototyped the fireplace/grill wall, carting boxes of stone around for the masons, and, especially, moving a couple tons of river rock by wheelbarrow from the street to the back yard. And suddenly my left shoulder and arm would not work. I’m talking serious pain that painkillers wouldn’t touch. I was miserable and wasn’t sure what to do so I made an appointment with my doctor.
The past year, 2017, has been like that for me. It’s been a busy and productive year – as long as you don’t count the two eye surgeries, my daughter’s bout with thyroid cancer, my mother’s horrible six-week struggle and ultimately her death, and, finally, my own surgery to replace my stenotic aortic valve. I was not able to drive for a total of about twelve weeks total. Other than that, it’s all good. When my kids were in marching band the rallying cry was “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and here I am, about to begin a new year alive and, perhaps, stronger.
I hear so many people had a similar past year full of challenges, pain, suffering, disappointment. Finances destroyed, marriages coming apart, health deteriorating. Maybe as I have gotten older I have come to realize this is the norm – I no longer live in a world (in my mind) where I wake up and nothing hurts and everything is going my way. Because that’s not the way it is and I’m sure it’s the same for you. So it’s not about asking how bad can it get, how much more I can take, when will it end. Those answers are: worse, a lot more than you think, when you die. A better thought is – what can I do about it? If I can’t stop the troubles and challenges of life what steps can I take to handle them?
The outcome of my opening story, about my shoulder, was positive because I took steps. After seeking internet help (after all, in this current world we are all doctors, lawyers, engineers – anything we want to search for and without the lengthy and expensive education!) I made an appointment with a trained physician. After hearing my symptoms, and a physical exam, he sent me to an imaging specialist. A radiologist read and interpreted the report. My doctor reviewed the findings and sent me to a physical therapist who did his own exam and put me on a course of treatment. On top of all that I added pharmaceuticals and hot tub therapy (that was part of the back yard project that got me into this mess – installing that hot tub) to alleviate the pain. All told, at least six individuals, plus my own efforts, contributed to my successful resolution of a very painful and life-impacting problem.
“Without counsel plans go awry; but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” Proverbs 15:22
The word ‘counsel’ appears 134 times in the New King James translation of the Bible, 19 times in Proverbs alone. Throughout the Biblical narrative we are not only admonished to seek counsel, but we witness everyone from Abraham to David to Paul gaining input from others. Even Jesus sought counsel, albeit from God Himself (not a bad plan, actually). And that’s not to say we don’t do it – if we are building something we get engineering help, if we are going on vacation we study the area, even heading out to eat at a restaurant we will read reviews (counsel) from others to see if it’s a good idea. All but the most stubborn head to a doctor when they have symptoms for medical counsel. But we fail in one big area: we are afraid to seek counsel on what is going on between our ears, in our heads and in our hearts.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”
Turns out it’s not the strong, everything-under-control, I’ve got the world on a string people who will be blessed. They already are. It is instead those who recognize their weaknesses and seek help higher than themselves. If you are poor in spirit, full of mourning, meek and timid but have a soul that yearns for more there is good news: you can live a successful, thriving, abundant, enjoyable – blessed – life. If you will only seek the right counsel.
In the 1975 blockbuster film ‘Jaws’ the police chief, played by Roy Scheider, finally sees the great white shark they are hunting. His line is classic: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” In a year that saw personal pain, tragedy and sorrow I finally looked at life and realized I did not have the tools to fix my problem. I needed a bigger boat. But in our culture we freely share doctor stories – just get a bunch of aging boomers together and you’ll hear a continuous litany of complaints – and mechanic stories and job stories. What’s going on inside our heads? Not so much. And yet from a spiritual perspective, an emotional perspective, a societal perspective and even a physical perspective we all would profit from getting help, we would be blessed to figure out what’s going on in there, we would all benefit from counsel. We all need a bigger boat.
So after months of dealing with my mom and dealing with my then-unknown heart ailment I sought counsel. For the first time in my 59 years I went to a professional, someone with the training and experience to help me identify what was going on up there in my three pounds of grey matter. Rather than live with anxiety and fear and loss and grief and a multitude of other emotions swimming around up there I went looking for relief.
As we head into 2018 many will go on diets. The gyms will be packed with new members. Folks will clean out their closets, vow to keep the budget balanced and generally straighten out every aspect of their lives. Do all that if you want to. But I’ve got a crazy idea (and my therapist says I’m not crazy, by the way). I believe many of us – maybe even you – need help. And not only is the help readily available, it’s likely your insurance will even pay for it. Seek out a trained, licensed counselor or therapist. It is even Biblically sound:
“Now I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and also able to counsel one another.” Romans 15:14
When I was walking around with a sling on my arm and going to PT I never once was embarrassed about it – I had a defined problem and was getting the help I needed to make it better. Don’t let any imagined stigma keep you from being the best you can be. Start 2018 slimmer and healthier if you want to; start it with clean closets and organized kitchen drawers. But mostly start it resolved to be a better you.
Some simple advice:
1) Assess your mental & emotional state
2) Be honest with yourself
3) Seek out the help you need
4) Move forward
Make this year your year of new beginnings.