Finding My Integrity with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

As we approach the month of June and celebrate the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I found myself in prayer, contemplating God’s boundless and passionate love for us.  I sometimes find praying in the Ignatian style to be helpful as I try to contemplate Jesus’ teachings.  Part of this prayer is to rely on my imagination as I place myself in the scene.  Dealing with the concepts of personal integrity and humility pushed me to be with Jesus at the last supper.

The Last Supper

It was evening and the air was cool.  The room was small but cozy, walls painted in light yellow and beige.  Pillows were on the floor and the disciples gathered at table with Jesus for his last supper.  We had lentil soup, bread, and wine.  We dipped our bread in freshly made olive oil made that week.  After we ate, Jesus stood up and got everybody’s attention.  The gospel of John 13: 4-51 recounts the story:

“So, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

When Jesus came to me, he knelt and grabbed my left foot.  The softness of his touch made me hold my breath.  As I looked down on him, I found myself thoughtless, wondering what I was going to feel.  I wanted to carry a conversation, but the moment told me to be still, to simply feel his presence and his care.  He washed my right foot and then dried both feet.  He looked at me one last time and smiled.  I returned a smiled.  I felt special by Jesus’ love and care.  I then felt a tear drop down my cheek.  My body became warm, and my palms got sweaty as I saw him move to the next disciple.

Jesus’ Identity

How confident was Jesus in who he was that he proceeded to kneel before us and wash our feet?  The gospel of John, again, helps us understand this identity:

Jesus is explaining to the Pharisees about the good Shepard and his sheep in John 10: 29-30.  They are wondering if he is the Messiah and who are his sheep.  Jesus replies, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Later, after Jesus explains to the disciples that he is the way and is going back to the father, Thomas wants Jesus to show him the Father.  Jesus replies, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, the Son of the Father, consubstantial with the Father.  The Holy Spirit binds them together, but also binds us together: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20).

What is Integrity and Humility?

It takes integrity, humility, and self-confidence to perform Jesus’ act of washing our feet as he taught us about serving one another.  He is not thinking highly of himself, and he is not exalting himself.  His firm confidence on who he was allowed him to kneel before me and wash my feet.  It would be natural to think like Peter and react with objection, “No … you shall never wash my feet.” (John 13:8).  But in accepting Jesus’ desire to wash my feet, I get to feel in my heart his sense of being one with the Father, full of love and mercy.  That feeling stirs my heart, and I feel compelled to pass on that love and mercy as well.

I decided to look up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of integrity: “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.”  I also recently read from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation2, “In great saints, you find that perfect humility and perfect integrity coincide.”

What is humility but being precisely the person that I am before God.  I am no greater than or smaller than I actually am.  If I think that I am greater than I am, and I am letting pride take over me.  If I think that I am being smaller than I am, I deprecate myself against God’s truth of who I am. I playdown and push away against God who is truth.  But God resides in me, and God’s divinity is my divinity … thus, this is part of my being that God wants me to attain.

In humility, as I acknowledge who I am as God sees me in a truthful manner, I consent to God being my all and I surrender myself to God.  So, what holds me back from being humble so that I can have integrity?

There are attachments to this world that pull me in one direction or another and don’t allow me to be my true self.  These attachments can be material, emotional or spiritual.  For example, I may feel attached to my house or car (like I really like them and can’t envision myself without them), or to money, to my body and health (I may worry and feel anxious about my health), or to anger and resentment, or as St. John of the Cross would say, even to certain forms of prayer.

The background noise in the world can also affect my integrity.  I want to gel with the current movements of thoughts and action.  I want to “fit in.”  These pressures, mainly stemmed from my desire to be accepted, can guide, and direct my thoughts and action.  I may run the risk of compromising my beliefs and values.  I may even be tempted to compromise my faith and my relationship with God.

Where do I go from here?

So how do I remain humble so that I can have integrity?  I lean on St. John of the Cross3 and try to die to myself slowly but steadily.  In detaching myself from the material, emotional and spiritual realms, I become naked before God, and let God see me as I am, as I truly am.  Here, I can let God look at me and love me with all my good qualities and faults.  In this relationship of love, God heals me and completes me.

As I look at Jesus one more time, His Sacred Heart overflowing with boundless love, compassion, and mercy, I can see he understands our brokenness and lack of integrity.  So, I ask Jesus to pray for me, a sinner with many faults, to heal me, to complete me.  In this month of June, what a good opportunity to ask Jesus to have mercy on us and heal us, to let us be open to his boundless and passionate love for us!

References:

  1. BibleGateway, New International Version.  https://www.biblegateway.com
  2. New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton. New Directions Book, 2007.  Original Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
  3. John of the Cross by Kieran Kavanaugh. The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.F

Daniel Rhodes

Finding God Again and Again by John Spitzer is a spellbinding spiritual odyssey that documents the author’s quest for intimacy with God after finding out that his testicular cancer has returned after thirteen years. The book started as a message to the author’s two children and quickly morphed into a spiritual book that is as resonant as it is inspiring. The author shares the experience of his mortality, faced with cancer, and the troubling thoughts that assailed him while he battled the disease with his wife. The quest for a deeper connection with God and the relationship with God as an experience through which we re-define authenticity and find our real identity are recurrent themes in this book, and the acute awareness of his mortality drove the author to re-embrace his faith, seeking God with sincerity and in truth. This book tells the author’s story while providing valuable spiritual lessons on finding God and embracing Him in our hearts.

John Spitzer’s book is a rare gift of love and faith that brilliantly captures the author’s experience of God’s unconditional love. The title is suggestive of the indisputable truth that God can be lost, but it also reiterates the hope that He can be found, again, and again, and again. The author writes about the place of prayer in the economy of human growth and explores the different kinds of prayers.

But in a nutshell, this book is about self-discovery and the discovery of God. The author identifies two movements of the heart — one that questions who we really are and one that seeks God: “I believe that in the depths of our hearts, we have two main yearnings: we yearn to find who we are, hopefully, to find out we are as God made us to be; and we yearn for love, hopefully realizing that it is God’s love we are looking for.” The link between his identity and his relationship with God is intelligently written and it provides answers to the perpetual ache of the human heart — the ache that nothing can sooth and the void that only God’s endearing and unconditional love can fill.

Finding God Again and Again is crafted in gorgeous prose and in a voice that is compassionate and filled with honesty. John Spitzer’s book is sprinkled with spiritual wisdom and insight, a book that will inspire faith and provide a path for many to find God and themselves.

Reviewed by Daniel Rhodes, May 9, 2022
The Book Commentary
Comstock Park, Michigan

Teenage Mindfulness this Spring

With the stresses of daily life and ongoing uncertainty in the world, it is no surprise that teens may feel disinterested and just want to tune everything out.  Is it possible that we can help our teenagers be mindful in the moment?   Is it possible we can invite them to experience other ways to relax and release some tension?

The laughter coming from the backyard catches my attention as I look out our kitchen window and contemplate the sun piercing through the clouds and blue sky. I can see the play structure as my son standing in the tower chats with his friend Trevor, who sits at the bottom of the slide. Richie is swinging pretty high after being pushed by Lauren, and Joe is chasing Billy with a water gun as they loop around the fortress (names have been changed to protect their privacy). It is mid-afternoon Saturday and they have chosen to escape their “teenage” world and dive into the playground, reminiscing and enjoying their days when they were much younger and did not have to worry about the challenges of being in high school.

Teens face many challenges as they move from middle school to high school. Not only do they desire to have more independence as they seek more activities, but more responsibility is thrown their way as well – both from parents and teachers. The way that they handle the stresses of life can depend on so many factors, including their temperament and personality; their previous life experiences, and the resilience they may have developed through these experiences; the activities they participate in and how busy they feel; their friendships and whether or not they feel support from those relationships; and their home life and family support. Add to the mix that they start to experience growth spurts, hormone changes and romantic feelings, and life can feel complicated.

Mental Health Problems

Anxiety can pop up easily in teenagers as they try to navigate their adolescence. About 1 in 3 teens may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder with symptoms that become significant enough to disrupt their daily life. One of the major factors that often lead to anxiety and mental health problems amongst teens is high expectations. This can include the expectation to perform well, or act, look or “be” a specific way. These expectations may be self-imposed, be caused by parental pressure, or simply our American culture to achieve and be the best.

COVID-19 and Uncertain Futures

Mental health has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought on virtual learning and major uncertainty about their futures (as highlighted in a recent New York Times article, titled 12 Teenagers on What Adults Don’t Get About Their Lives). Additionally, a recent Washington Post article mentions the concern that the CDC has for declining mental health in teens. In “A Cry for Help:” CDC Warns of Steep Decline in Mental Health, Moriah Balingit stated that “more than 4 in 10 teens [report] they feel ‘persistently sad or hopeless,’ and 1 in 5 [say] they have contemplated suicide.”

Social Issues, War and Violence

In addition, our world continues to be complicated by social issues, which seem to always be bombarding our psyches. Poverty, homelessness and hunger affect not only developing countries but here in our own country as well. Other areas of concern include climate change, civil rights and discrimination, gender inequality and gender dysphoria, and immigration challenges The current generation of kids and teens are very socially conscious and want to make an impact in our world.

The war in Ukraine has touched all of us. It is natural to feel empathy and sadness, particularly for those who have relatives there. Schools continue to have lockdowns and drills to address shootings, which can potentially cause emotional stresses perhaps not too different from the Ukraine war. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to restrict activities and to wear masks on a regular basis. It is no wonder that going out in public can create some degree of stress and anxiety, even for us adults – so again, no wonder our teens may be feeling this way too.

Social Media and The Need to “Fit In”

being connected to social media has its positive effects, but can also create enormous negative energy. Today’s teens are very connected and aware of what is going on, not just in their friends’ lives, but also in the lives of everyone around them and so many larger world events. Imperfections are all erased, and “only edited for perfection,” unattainable standard is loud and clear. Appearances carry a lot of weight, to the point that it can be very distressing when posts are negative or offensive to others, or a teen is lead to believe everyone else’s life is perfect.

With all of these daily stresses and looming uncertainty, it is no surprise that sometimes teens feel like just going to their room and tuning things out. They find security in their chats and by posting how they feel. But is it possible we can invite them to experience other ways to relax and release some tension?

More likely than not, there’s going to be some resistance, as venturing out into another activity may rock their boat. But with a little love, some humor and teasing, maybe using words to expand their imagination, we can talk them into going on an adventure with us and enjoy nature, even if it’s just for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. We may not have to go far to experience the wildlife here in our own home of southwest Michigan. One of our nurses used to keep in our office a book about the different birds in our area so kids could identify them as the birds flew by our exam rooms and kids could see them through the windows. Try taking your camera or your phone and capture some of the birds perched on a branch or chasing each other as if they were flying and playing in their own backyard. Perhaps do a nature scavenger hunt walk with phone cameras.

What Can We Do? Where Can We Go?

  • The Kalamazoo Nature Center website shares its mission statement, “A not-for-profit organization whose mission is to create relationships & experiences that welcome and inspire people to discover, enjoy, value and care for nature. KNC envisions a resilient community where all people have strong interconnections with the natural world.”
  • Asylum Lake is a 274-acre parcel owned by Western Michigan University, located by Drake Road and Parkview Avenue. It supports multiple habitat types including oak savanna, prairie, forest, wet meadow, emergent marsh, shrub carr and two lakes. Birds fly in every so often so it’s good to have your camera ready.
  • The Kleinstuck Preserve is also a 48-acre nature preserve owned by Western Michigan University. As stated on their webpage, “This unique ecosystem includes upland forest, swamp forest, shrub carr and marshland which are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Some of Kleinstuck’s special features include a beautiful showcase of native wildflowers in the springtime and a highly diverse bird population. The property is open to the public for passive recreation and is used by WMU and other educational institutions for research and education.”
  • Celery Flats in Portage, as stated on their website, “Is really a ‘park within a park.’ A key element of the Portage Creek Bicentennial Park, Celery Flats, has two distinct settings. On the north side of Garden Lane, the Celery Flats Pavilion offers a nice open-air seating area, picnic tables, restrooms and an air station. The Celery Flats Historical Area, with several relocated and restored buildings, is located south of Garden Lane. The Historical Area is the site of many community events and several of the buildings can be reserved for private group use.”
  • The Kal-Haven Trail is, as stated on their website, “33.5 miles between Kalamazoo and South Haven in southwest Michigan. The trail rests on an abandoned railroad bed constructed in 1871. The converted rail-trail winds through gorgeous scenery including wooded areas, farmlands, streams and rivers.”

Consider getting the All Trails: Hike, Bike & Run app as a guide to the outdoors. I found a number of other app’s on my phone that help me discover what’s in my “own backyard.”

So as spring rolls around the corner and we find ways to get outside and experience life, perhaps this might be an occasion to create some bonding time with your teen and spend it in nature. A couple of hours away from the house and disconnected from social media might release some Dopamine from that “feel-good” center of the brain. And who knows, this just might be the break that the doctor ordered to help our kids get back their self-confidence, release some tension and stress, and tackle that school project they’ve been wanting to finish.

(A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners, was first published on Bronson’s Blog Page on April 15, 2022)

References:

Fear and War

I have found myself in this time of lent thinking about the temptations I suffer as a falling creature from heaven.  As I see myself in the context of today’s world of war and with the difficulties we have in working together as a community, the temptation of power has surfaced to the top as something to work on.  With this backdrop, I have found myself in prayer meditating and discerning with Jesus and the disciples how to deal with the temptation of power as I acknowledge that I may be experiencing fear and anxiety about the future, perhaps feeling a sense of uncertainty and loss of control.

In the gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus predicting his death three times.

 

Jesus Predicts His Death (Mark 8:31-33)1

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Sometimes I can feel the need to exert my power, even to the point of going against God’s divine providence.

 

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time (Mark 9:30-37)

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

I may even feel the need to exert my power over others.  I wonder if the disciples felt anxiety and a lack of direction as they wondered what Jesus was trying to tell them, and what it meant for them.

 

Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time (Mark 10:32-34)

32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

The temptation of power can bring out the worst in me, even to the point of “mocking and spitting” when I feel threatened by others, but it can be more subtle as I try to control other’s thoughts and actions.  During this lent, I can be honest with myself and acknowledge that this negative energy resides within me.  I can then go down on my knees, and as the man with leprosy who desires a cure from Jesus, I too ask, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

This passion that Jesus talks about is the way of the cross that will be an example for me to deal with my passions, and in this specific story, to deal with the temptation of power.  But to approach this event and carry my own cross, I must be honest with myself to identify my passions, and then humble myself before God as I acknowledge that this cross is very heavy to carry by myself and I must do so with Jesus’ help.  St. Augustine, in one of his sermons, explains:

“Observe a tree, how it first reaches downwards so that it may then shoot upwards. It sinks its roots deep into the ground so that its top may reach towards the skies.  Is it not from humility that it endeavors to grow? But without humility it will not reach higher.   You want to grow up into the air without roots.  That is not growth, but collapse.”2

When we are in this state of being separated from God and falling to these temptations, then we experience what Thomas Merton is saying in New Seeds of Contemplation3,

  • We cannot trust each other
  • We hate ourselves
  • We tend to ease our burden of guilt that is in us by passing it on to others
  • We build an obsession with evil
  • We associate failure (punishment) with dishonesty and guilt

What Thomas Merton then proposes is:

  • We must try to accept ourselves in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil
  • We have to respect our own rights so we can respect the rights of others
  • We have to learn to trust God that God can protect men unaccountably against themselves, and that God can always turn evil into good
  • If we can trust and love God, we can love men who are evil. We can learn to love them in their sin as God loves them in their sin
  • If we can love the men we do not trust and share their burden of sin by identifying ourselves with them, then perhaps there’s some hope of peace on earth

By experiencing Jesus’ passion on the cross, I too can overcome my passions so that I can live with God’s free gifts and follow the teachings of Jesus as he states in the Sermon on the Mount, with meekness, humility, and purity of heart.  In this state of peace, I can then pass on love to others as Jesus passes his love to me.

References

  1. Bible Gateway, New International Version.
  2. Excerpt from the Gospel of John, Sermon 38.2, St, Augustine
  3. New Seeds of Contemplation, Chapter 18, The Root of War is Fear, Thomas Merton. New Directions Books, 2007.  Copyright 1961, Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.

Self-Efficacy in your Children

“You got this,” Self-Efficacy in your Children

Sometimes psychology terms get confusing for me.  Here are three that are on my mind:

Self-confidence:  One’s own sense of self-worth

Resilience:  the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (Webster Dictionary)

Self-Efficacy:  the belief in my ability to succeed in achieving a goal. (Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist and professor at Stanford University, 1977).

One of the challenges we have as parents is trying to raise our sons and daughters to become successful kids who can later become productive members of society.  Not caring enough or not getting involved and we have kids who sail without direction, lost and without purpose.  Too much involvement and we behave like helicopter parents, setting them up for anxiety and depression later on.  Where is the middle, we may ask?

What is Self-Efficacy?

As noted above, in self-efficacy, we develop the belief that we can achieve anything.  We have the confidence to know that we can do whatever we set our mind to.  We do this by managing how we think (we control our thoughts and learn how to become optimists), how we feel (we control our emotions and better yet, realize we have the power to manage our emotions) and how we behave (we control our actions).

The Main Ingredients for Self-Efficacy

  • Bandura believes there are four main sources that influence the development of self-efficacy:
  • Mastery of Experiences, one’s previous experiences, particularly success. In essence, success breeds success.
  • Vicarious experiences, where seeing others succeed helps us develop the confidence and visualization that we too can succeed.
  • Social Persuasion, where coaching and getting feedback by others helps us develop the skills necessary for success.
  • Emotional, physical, and psychological well-being can influence our feel about our personal abilities. Eating well, exercising, getting a good night sleep can affect our beliefs in ourselves.

Suggestions for Self-Efficacy

Here are a few suggestions to help your child develop self-efficacy:

  • Set goals
  • Have them do things they like to do
  • Have them try new things and face the challenges
  • Teach them to accept failures and criticism in a positive light
  • Reframe obstacles with positive interventions
  • Approach goals slowly and don’t let them get over-stressed about the ultimate results.

Interesting enough, self-efficacy helps with the development of self-confidence and resilience.

References:

Bandura, Albert (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman. p. 604. ISBN 978-0-7167-2626-5.

Lopez-Garrido, G.  https://www.simplypsychology.org/self-efficacy.html.  August 2020.

Mamie Morrow, Why Self-Efficacy Matters, TEDx Talk, May 29, 2019

Jessica Lahey, How to Lower Your Child’s Risk for Addiction, The New York Times, March 31, 2021.

Jerry Windley-Daoust

Vulnerability, honesty, and wisdom characterize the very best spiritual autobiographies (think of Augustine’s “Confessions,” Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain,” or Day’s “The Long Loneliness”). I found all three in Dr. John Spitzer’s “Finding God Again and Again.”

Spitzer is a pediatrician, husband, and the father of two children who, although he was born in the U.S., spent much of his childhood in Cali, Colombia, before returning to the United States. He wrote this book in pieces over the course of nearly twenty years (2001-2020), labeling each chapter with the month and year of its composition. The result isn’t a neat retrospective, filtered and edited to conform to a dramatic arc. Instead, he took me on a journey through the ups and downs of his life, including several bouts with cancer. Although he gives some details of these experiences, his focus is on his internal life, especially his relationship with God. I got to see this relationship evolve and mature as the trials he faces lead him to new insights and practices. He moves from a more discursive style of prayer, for example, to a more contemplative style, walking us through several rich experiences of encountering Jesus in imaginative prayer. But even in the early parts of the book, Spitzer’s relationship with God is poignantly intimate. I recognized myself in his efforts to get his relationship with God “right”: like me, he has to learn again and again that there is no “getting it right” per se, only a childlike surrender to God’s love and mercy.

Spitzer is Catholic, and the spirituality he practices has a Catholic “flavor,” drawing on Catholic spiritual masters and Ignatian spirituality, for example. There’s an immediacy and rawness to his writing that reminds me of what Therese Martin might have written if she had lived into middle age.
“I have two main yearnings: I yearn to find my identity, and I yearn for love.” Spitzer frames his account with reflections on these yearning at the beginning and at the end of the book: “When I realize both of these yearnings in my relationship with God, then my heart feels at peace.” The search for this peace runs through the whole book; anyone walking a similar path will benefit from the wisdom and guidance Spitzer provides in these pages.

By Jerry Windley-Daoust
Author, Imagine You Walked with Jesus

Parenting Toddlers

Being a parent to a toddler is filled with precious moments of joy and silliness.  However, sometimes you may experience some “terrible two’s” hiccups. Read on for some tips to help your toddler learn and develop into a happy, healthy child.

(I originally posted this article on Bronson Hospital’s blog site on February 10, 2022).

A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners.

What can be more frustrating than not being able to find your words to express your unhappiness, frustration, or anger? Welcome to the toddler years! As parents, these moments are filled with joy and silliness. Sometimes though, we may lose our patience with our little ones because we don’t know how to help them.

In fact, sometimes their aggressive behaviors can cause us emotional and physical pain. Not that they mean for that to happen, but they are simply expressing their negative energy in unintended ways. So, what goes into their response, and why is a 2-year-old more likely to have that aggressive temper outburst compared to an older child?

Factors That Go into An Aggressive Temper Outburst

There are three main factors that go into a toddler’s behavior, be it positive or negative. Keeping these factors in mind can help us navigate these difficult toddler years and their tantrums.

  • The child’s age and development. Part of a toddler’s frustration in dealing with life’s challenges is not being able to express their feelings. If you think about your child’s development, you’ll notice that a lot of energy goes into gross and fine motor development for the first two years. But somewhere around 18 months to two years, their energy begins to focus on language development. Typically, an 18-month-old might have around 10-15 words in their vocabulary, rising to about 25-50 words and putting together two-word sentences by two years of age, and exploding to about 1,000 words by three years of age. A typical four-year-old will have too many words to count, talk in paragraphs and tell stories. It is no wonder that two-year-old Tommy hits Jack on the head when Jack takes his truck. It is easier for Tommy to release those hurt and distrustful feelings with a hit than trying to verbalize his feelings.
  • The child’s temperament and sensitivity. What is temperament? According to the Webster Dictionary, it is “a characteristic or habitual inclination or emotional response” to activity going on around us. It is our predisposition to act and react in certain ways. Some children tend to get excited, physical, or emotional easily. Some children tend to be sensitive with their feelings or with touch. These types of toddlers are more likely to respond to an adverse event with anger and aggression.
  • The child’s past experiences and social environment. Children are constantly observing and trying to learn from their environment. Sometimes, unintended adverse experiences can create an imprint in a child’s mind, then becoming a way for them to solve problems. From remarks of shame such as, “What’s the matter with you?” or “You should know better!” to overt childhood trauma, negative events can become imprints in a child’s psyche and may later come out in a negative way.

Responding to Aggressive Behavior and Tantrums

Once a toddler begins to display some aggressive behavior and tantrums, how do we help them out?

In the moment:

  • Stay calm. As a parent, we always want to be in control of the situation. Trust yourself that you know what to do. This acknowledgment will give you a sense of peace and serenity that will allow you to think clearly. If necessary, take a minute or two to collect yourself. Your child needs to see you calm and in control, while they are “spinning out of control.”
  • Survey the scene and situation. Try to put yourself in your toddler’s shoes. This may give you some empathy to appreciate what they might be feeling.
  • Stop the aggressive behavior or tantrum. While staying calm and very matter of fact, you may say something like, “No-no, we don’t hit.” or “No, you cannot bite.” Then, you want to move into a different location to help your child gain control. Depending on the location and circumstances, you may find yourself placing your toddler in a “safe space” (see below. Sit down and hold your child in a hug (it may take a couple of minutes). Or, put your child in the stroller. During this time, you may find yourself giving some words of reassurance, like “You are going to be ok,” “I know you are upset and it’s ok to feel angry,” or maybe “Take a deep breath, let’s work together on this.”
  • Move on. Once you feel your toddler has settled down, try to change the scenery or activity if necessary. If you feel that maybe they have hit a state of boredom, maybe let them run outside in the backyard. Perhaps suggest they try a different activity. This will help reset the field and rules for their interaction with others.

In the moment, we are simply trying to put out a fire. Eventually, what we would like to do is be more proactive and try to minimize these aggressive behaviors and tantrums. In any event, make sure your reaction is appropriate to the circumstances and not an overreaction. Always try to avoid yelling or further traumatizing a situation. Remember, your child is learning from you at that moment as well and will copy your response, positive or negative, as a learned behavior.

Long-term solutions to help minimize tantrums:

It is difficult for children to learn when their brain has been flooded with hormones and emotions. The best way to teach children in the long run is to address potential misbehaviors when they are calm, before they have a meltdown. Here are some suggestions to empower your toddler to solve problems:

  • Teach them to self-regulate. Teaching “self-regulation” skills can start as early as the toddler years. The two big challenges toddlers face not having enough words to express themselves, and not being able to control their impulsive behavior. As adults, we can put words to their emotions so they can learn to recognize them. Try phrases like “I know you are angry,” “I know you are hurt,” or “I know you are frustrated.”

    Adding new words to your child’s vocabulary that help them to identify their emotions will help them move to the next step: learning how to relax. You can practice relaxation techniques with them such as deep breathing, using the belly muscles to breathe, using their arms to stretch up and out or tensing and releasing their arms and legs.

  • Play charades or visualize adverse situations. When your child is calm and in a good mood, act out being mad, frustrated, or disappointed. Ask them how they would make things better or feel better in the acted-out situation. This exercise will help them create empathy and understanding. Listen to their thoughts and ideas, it’s amazing what they can come up with!
  • Help your child feel confident and secure. Keep a regular routine at home. This creates a space that is safe, secure, and predictable. Some great times to have a routine in place are mealtimes, bedtime, nap time and playtime. Children like predictability and feel confident when they know when the next activity is coming up.
  • Create a safe space. Let your toddler create an area in your house that they consider “safe and cozy.” This should be an area that they can be comfortable going to when they get upset or frustrated. This can be any area in the room or perhaps a tent that you have propped up. Let them choose and create the area themselves. In this area, let them have some pillows, stuffed animals, books or objects that they can safely squeeze, such as squishy balls or larger foam balls.
  • Create space for child play with books and toys. Teach them what areas in the house that have “nice things” or “things we don’t touch.” Children do better when they know the rules.
  • Play soothing music during the day. Children tend to be more relaxed and may listen better when home feels peaceful. Playing classical or “spa” music at home will help children find a sense of peacefulness that they can try to tap into when having a dispute with another child.
  • Reassess as your toddler grows up. Ask yourself if your child is developing enough to be able to use the right words and solve problems by themselves. Supervise your child carefully when they are involved in disputes with playmates. If a disagreement is minor, keep your distance and let the children solve it on their own. However, you must intervene when children get physical, or the issue continues even after they’re told to stop.

When to Seek Help

Despite your well-intentioned efforts to manage your toddler’s aggression and tantrums, you may still struggle sometimes. That is okay and completely normal! If you notice your child is showing signs of the following behaviors, consider setting up an appointment with your child’s pediatrician.

  • Your toddler’s aggression is persistent to the point that it is interfering with a healthy and functioning home.
  • Your toddler’s aggression is interfering with their social development and ability to play with others.
  • Your toddler’s aggression is having an impact at daycare, childcare, or preschool.

References

AAP HealthyChildren.org, Toddler Aggressive Behavior

ZeroToThree.Org, Aggressive Behavior in Toddlers

www.parents.com, Taming Toddler Aggression

AAP HealthyChildren.Org, Childhood Trauma & 3 Ways to Help Kids Cope

I am loved

In prayer group, we recently covered Chapter 10 from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, A Body of Broken Bones.  I could have titled it, “I am loved in spite of my unworthiness.”   In this chapter, Merton talks about God’s grace and unconditional love, compassion and being one with all.  A key concept in my being able to love “my neighbor” is to have the belief that I am loved by God.  As Merton states, “The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved.  The faith that one is loved by God.”

It is then, in this state of perfect love and contemplation with God, that “our inalienable personalities, while remaining eternally distinct, will nevertheless combiner into One so that each one of us will find himself in all the others, and God will be life and reality of all.”

Coincidentally, the gospel reading from 2 weeks ago was from Luke 5:12-16, Jesus healing the man with leprosy.

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.  When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

As I contemplated and prayed on this passage, I went back to my early high school years in Colombia.  My mom had gotten me a membership to the Olympic pool at our city of Cali, and I frequented the pool often to swim some laps and get away from the stresses of life.  One summer, I developed sores on my feet that gradually became worse.  At first, they were itchy and small, slowly turning into scabs as I scratched them.  I was hoping they would disappear by themselves but instead they got bigger and slowly began to break open with pus.  I continued to play soccer as they did not seem to bother me too much, but they really got my attention when I noticed my white socks were becoming stained with pus.  A smell developed from my feet that was repulsive, a smell that today I would describe as “bacterial.”  It got my mom’s attention when my white sneakers started showing yellow and red stains.  Our family doctor prescribed both antifungal and antibacterial medicines which helped me recover.

Going back to Luke’s reading, I can only imagine how much worse did the man with leprosy feel as he approached Jesus and asked for a healing.  With the heat in Palestine, the smell from this person must have been strong.  As he was covered with leprosy, I am going to imagine that his peripheral nerves were already damaged and perhaps there wasn’t much physical pain.  But the emotional pain had to be significant as he had been ostracized from family and friends.

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  How often have we found ourselves asking God, “if you are willing, you can make me clean?”  I would say my petitions are strongest when I find myself in a state of humility, be it from a circumstance that was physical like an illness, or maybe emotional from work.  It is in these states that I feel Jesus looking at me, extending his arm to touch my shoulder and saying, “I am willing.”

God appreciates the full worth of our souls.  He sees our souls possess dignity and wants to love us unconditionally.  God made us in God’s image, and God wants the best for us, helping us realize ourselves to the best of our potential.  When I embrace these concepts and make them my own, I can then rest in peace knowing that I have guidance through Jesus’ teachings, and I have the energy that inspires me by the Holy Spirit to do what is right, with full freedom to follow and with no attachments, as I know the Holy Spirit is like the wind where I do not where it comes from or where it goes, but it is always right.

In being one with the Triune God, I can lower my guard as I accept my unworthiness, with all my faults and all my imperfections.  I let God spread God’s wings to protect me and care for me.  In this embrace with God, I can feel the love and peace settling in my heart as I close my eyes and just rest under God’s protection.

It is in this state of love, as I accept humbly my unworthiness, that I can then love “my neighbor” unconditionally.  In this process of helping, as I try to be the best that I can be so that we can become One with God, I discover myself with all my qualities that God placed in my heart but also help you realize your potential by helping you see your own qualities.  This state of being creates a harmony that we long to have because it is our nature to be one with God.  Then, we can embrace in our full humanity and rest in God’s love and peace

 

References:

  1. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=luke+5%3A12-16&version=NIV
  2. New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton.  New Directions Books, 2007.  Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.

 

Being One with God

I have been working on the concept of being one with God, feeling the freedom of the Holy Spirit so I can be more like Jesus while I let God the Father hold me and tell me, “You are my beloved son.”  By feeling this love, I can then pass on this love to others.

Recently, in prayer group, we read Chapter 9 “We Are One Man” from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.  He stresses the importance of being there for each other and “empty himself and give himself to other people in the purity of a selfless love.”

A central theme in this chapter is being one with God and he concludes, “Our joy and our life are destined to be nothing but a participation in the Life that is Theirs.  In Them (the Holy Trinity) we will one day live entirely in God and in one another as the Persons of God live in One another.”

As I meditated on this reading, I found myself thinking back to Chapter 17 in my book, Finding God Again and Again, and I thought I would share an excerpt of that chapter with you.

It was October 2012 and I had just discovered I had a monoclonal protein that was suggesting the possibility of multiple myeloma.  As if having had a testicular cancer in the past was not enough, I found myself wondering about death and dying as I contemplated a new cancer diagnosis.  My wife was attending an educational conference at a resort in upper Michigan, and I tagged along since I had some time off.  This gave me an opportunity for much reading, meditation, and prayer.

“ … The next day after checking in and Anne went to her conference, I sat on the deck by the family room, overlooking the 18th hole and listening to Native American flute music from my iPhone.  The gentle wind blew through the leaves and the breeze turned cool later in the afternoon.  I soon had to wear my sweatshirt despite the clear, sunny skies.  It was late August in upper Michigan, and it felt like the fall season was upon us.  My gaze became fixed on the trees, and I appreciated the mixture of shaded and bright green leaves.  The wind blew them in undulating waves as if they sang a song of comfort to my heart, and soon I found myself in deep communion with God.

I began to praise God for being such a good Father, for taking such good care of us.  I felt our blessed mother and St. Joseph being there with me.  I thanked them for being there with me.  I prayed to St. Francis to help me be a good servant.  All I wanted to do was to take good care of children, help them get better, be a good father and a good husband.  I felt joy to be a servant for God, all for God’s glory.  I prayed for my grandparents who had passed.  I could feel Grandma Murphy being there with me.  I also prayed for my father-in-law, for my uncles, aunts, and cousins, and for patients who had also passed away.  I prayed for our friend Annette and her dad, I prayed for their peace and for their communion with God.

Very slowly, my mind began to shut down.  I became engulfed in the rhythm of the leaves moving back and forth.  I then became thoughtless.  I was just being, just resting in God… and then this joy, peace and love overcame me.  I felt like a poem wanted to burst out of me:

Your arms engulf me,

Your touch is delicate.

Not by the fire that purifies my soul,

But by your warmth, Father,

I realize you are here to console me.

 

My heart is at peace,

Weightless and without care,

For there are no regrets from yesterday,

Nor worries about tomorrow,

But simply joy in being here with you,

Joy to be here with my brothers and sisters.

 

As I rest in You

I feel complete.

I am in You,

And You are in me.

 

As I rested in God’s arms, I felt like Jesus was with me doing his high priestly prayer to God the Father (John 17: 1-26).  In the middle of his prayer, I heard Jesus saying,

“… And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me …”

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit of love all in one as we rested together.

I just rested in God’s arms for some time, feeling love and peace, and not aware of time passing by.  But then my mind wanted to get busy:

“Why are you treating me this way? Why are you doing this to me?” I asked God.  I felt overwhelmed by this feeling.  I was engulfed in this love and wanted to wiggle out.

“I don’t deserve to be treated this way, Lord.  I am a sinner with much fault, and You are loving me beyond my understanding.”  I did not know how to act.  I wanted to move, I wanted my mind to become active, but I felt God tell me to just rest. “Don’t let your mind get busy,” is how I felt.  And so, I rested in God again.  I let go of my impulse to move away and went back to letting God hold me.”

It is a challenge to give when we are busy with our lives.  All the responsibilities from work, home and our children’s extracurricular activities can suck the energy out of us and it feels like we have nothing left.  I have found that being mindful in the moment, seeing God in all things and in all people, has helped me take on these challenges and not feel so anxious and exasperated.  The pace of life might seem fast, but inside in my heart, I feel peace as I try to see each person as God’s son or daughter just trying to do the best they can and seeing how I can fit in to make their lives easier.  We are simply messengers of God, trying to help each other develop in God’s eyes.

References

  1. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton.  New Directions Books, 2007.  Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.

Matthew Lloyd

Loved it! 😍

This is an excellent spiritual memoir of someone’s faith journey toward the God of Christianity.

While I would no doubt have issues with someone getting all of their theology from someone’s memoir and journal, I do believe it is helpful for us to consider how we find ourselves in similar situations. I have not had a similar experience with reoccurring cancer like John, but I have had my fair share of religious experiences throughout the years.

John’s writing is captivating and is hard to put down. I sincerely mean that. I had an easy time not only reading these words but digesting them as well. He writes in a way that will keep you turning page after page, and you will find it hard to put this book down. I suppose the one thing that I could complain about is I would have doubled the number of chapters and space everything out a little bit more. It may make it easier for some folks to read that way, but like I mentioned, it is not one that I wanted to put down so I do not think that the number of chapters is something that must be changed to enjoy the book.

While the book spans about two decades of time, the timeline stays fairly well coherent. I am sure that there are some details that have been left out but overall, I feel like I know the story of John Spitzer well enough that I could have a conversation with him about both the health issues that he has faced as well as his faith journey towards knowing God. You can tell from the very outset that there is a culmination building and I am thankful that there is a joyful ending to the work.

You should pick up a copy of this memoir and give it a read. I believe you will find it not only interesting but stirring something in your soul. If you pick it up for no other reason, pick it up because the author quotes Star Wars amongst a book about Jesus.

Book Review by Matthew Lloyd
Reedsy Discovery