Enduring Pain

January 27, 2010

Finding the balance between responding to tragedy and compassion fatigue

It’s been two weeks since the earthquake in Haiti. Images of injured, hungry and homeless people still fill the nightly news. PSA’s, fund-raisers and telethons invite us to keep helping, to keep sending money.

I must confess that last week, I wept over each news report—this week, I have begun to avoid the news altogether.

It is almost too much to watch or think about, especially as we each go about our own daily routines, handling our own daily challenges, even though those challenges may be much less frightening or enduring than those of the people of Haiti. And Haiti is only one place that is full of suffering today.

How should you respond when faced with tragic and overwhelming events? Before you begin to help others:

• Take care of yourself physically. This includes eating nourishing food, getting enough sleep, doing mild exercise.

• Increase the time you spend with family members. Play together. Go for a walk together. Work on a household project together. Take time to appreciate each other with smiles and hugs and words of appreciation.

• Talk with other adults, which will help lessen your feelings of isolation and anxiety. This also provides a “reality check” on your reactions, helping you realize that your feelings are normal. Talking with others also helps bring feelings of helplessness or fear you may be experiencing back to reasonable parameters.

• Spend time with people you enjoy, doing things you enjoy.

• Give yourself permission to be distracted. It is equally important to be kind toward others and tolerant of ways in which their coping needs may differ from yours.

• Avoid real and symbolic tragedy for a while. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the television images, listen to the radio, or avoid news sources altogether. Periodically, you can ask others if there is any significant new information you should know.

• Engage in activities that reaffirm your sense of yourself and others as members of a caring community. Involve yourself in worship and prayer. Join a small group Bible study where you can feel free to explore how God wants us to live with one another.

• Work in a charitable organization within your own community. This can help lessen your feelings of helplessness in the face of so much need.

When you have taken care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually, you can then comfort and assist your children:

• Remain alert to the cues children will give about their thoughts and feelings, so that you can provide ongoing support for them.

“Will there be an earthquake here?” “There could be. We should check our plan for what to do and where to go. Having a plan will help us make sure we have emergency supplies, too”. OR “There are usually no earthquakes where we live. But this is a good reminder that we should have an emergency plan and extra supplies for our family. Let’s make a plan now.”

• Remember that it is important to answer the questions children and youth are actually asking and not the ones you think they are asking.

“Who will take care of those children on TV?” “There are lots of people from all over the world who are helping the people in Haiti and they are making sure that every child will have a place to live, just like you have lots of family and friends who would look after you. Let’s make a list of people who would help our family.”

• Most importantly, you can listen to what children and youth have to say, not only in order to minister to them, but in order to learn from them. In crisis situations children will frequently express what others are afraid to say, or will give voice to emotions adults have hidden, even from themselves. Children and youth, as well as adults, are capable of a profound ministry in the face of tragedy.

“If you were in Haiti now, what help would you want? How do you think our family could be ready for an emergency? How do you think our family can help others?”

It is perhaps one of the most difficult things we do, to let go of our fear. However, in our Christian journey, we are reminded over and over, to trust God. That doesn’t mean we will be spared from tragedy. It doesn’t mean our lives will always be serene and simple. It doesn’t even mean we will always have an easy, peaceful feeling. It does mean that no matter what happens, we know that because of our relationship with God and our place in the Body of Christ, the resources will be there to give us comfort, faith and hope and we will get through it.

And when we have arrived at this knowing, we can be God’s truest and most helpful ambassadors to others.

You can read more about how to respond to frightening and overwhelming events in the free LOGOS Ministry resource “Terror and Tragedy: Responding to Our Children and Youth”. Send your email request directly to patjanssen@thelogosministry.org


Passing the Parenting Test

January 20, 2010

I remember when each of my babies was placed in my arms, only minutes old. I was overwhelmed with love and with feelings of protection. But by the time I arrived home from the hospital, those feelings were accompanied by a big load of panic. How will I know the right things to do? What if I make a mistake?

I blundered forward and despite myself, my babies grew into smart and spirited children. But of course, I worried about their physical and emotional health, I worried about their education—and I worried about their spiritual life. So I fed them healthy food, encouraged their schooling, and took them to worship and to Sunday School and to LOGOS….

Last week I read this article in Christianity Today “The Myth of the Perfect Parent: Why the best parenting techniques don’t produce Christian children” by Leslie Leyland Fields. * Leslie writes, “Our most consuming concern is that our children “turn out”—that is, that our Christian faith and values are successfully transmitted, and that our children grow up to be churchgoing, God-honoring adults.”

My children have grown up to be wonderful adults with families of their own. Their values and ethics are Christian, they are involved in productive work, enjoy great friendships, but do they have faith? Did I fail parenting?

Leslie says, “The question we ask of ourselves must be reframed. We need to quit asking, ‘Am I parenting successfully?’ And we most certainly need to quit asking, ‘Are others parenting successfully?’ Instead, we need to ask, ‘Am I parenting faithfully? Faithfulness, after all, is God’s highest requirement for us…. Parenting, like all tasks under the sun, is intended as an endeavor of love, risk, perseverance, and, above all, faith. It is faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success that bridges the gap between our own parenting efforts, and what, by God’s grace, our children grow up to become.”

May God help us all to be faithful parents….

*You can read Leslie Leyland Fields’ entire article at http://bit.ly/6ZwdUq

45 Seconds: A Personal Reflection

January 13, 2010

This morning’s news is filled with reports and images of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. How life in Port-au-Prince changed in 45 seconds!

My first prayers have been filled with intercessions to God for the people of Haiti and for those who will rush to help them.

My second prayers, however, have been completely self-centered and filled with gratefulness that my own personal world is safe.

Is this the same for you? Dear God, how terrible, and phew! So glad this didn’t happen to me?

45 seconds.

Real earthquakes [and other disasters] may give those of us on “safe ground” a chance to have a “soulquake”. Crisis often triggers transcendent experiences in people, but what if we didn’t need a crisis to get our lives right? What if we took 45 seconds every day to ask ourselves:

Am I living in God’s will?
Are my relationships right?
Is my life filled with God’s purpose?

45 seconds…can change your life.

Tooting Your Own Horn

January 6, 2010

My mother used to say, “if you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will.”

I did not get it then….but I do now. It sounded self-centered, too prideful then, but now I understand the difference: being egocentric, arrogant, conceited about yourself is not the same as understanding God’s purpose for your life, being in touch with your own gifts and abilities, and being open to sharing yourself.

Maybe it would read better if mom had said, “Find the horn God gave you to toot, let your life be pleasing to God, and toot away.”

Judy Comstock, Executive Director of the International Network of Children’s Ministry, has just edited and published “It Worked for Us: Best Practices for Ministry with Children and Families.” I am going to toot Judy’s horn for just a moment: this is a very helpful book containing practical information about children’s ministry from administration to child development to education models to safety, special needs, spiritual formation and finally, volunteers.

One chapter is on Family Ministry, a particular passion at The LOGOS Ministry these days. The chapter begins with reminding us about Deuteronomy 6:4-7, one of my favorite passages and the guiding scripture for our Heartfelt newsletter. The chapter goes on to talk about “providing a model for parents” and about educating, equipping and encouraging parents along the way.

Lots of churches today are struggling with how to provide Biblically-based, healthy worship and ministry opportunities for children and their families, especially if they are experiencing staff and volunteer shortages. Rather than remain in despair and isolation over what our churches cannot do, let’s talk with one another and help each other find ways and means to reach more families for Christ.

I am thinking that churches who have created effective family ministry should be tooting their own horns. What is your church doing for children and families and how is it working?

Toot away!