Table of Contents Introduction ………………………………………………………… 5 How Long Should Improvement Take? ……………..9 Today is Tomorrow …………………………………………… 11
Love ………………………………………………………………………11 How to Handle Difficult People …………………………14 Demeanor …………………………………………………………… 17 Deliberate Attention ……………………………………….… 17 Generosity …………………………………………………………. 18 Forgiveness ………………………………………………………… 20 Gratitude …………………………………………………………… 23 What About Suffering? …………………………………….. 24 Gratitude and Meaning ……………………………………. 27 Aids to Gratitude ………………………………………………. 38 Barriers to Gratitude ………………………………………….40 Hope ……………………………………………………………….…… 42 Coronavirus ………………………………………………………… 44 3
ehavioral Christianity and Behavioral Christianity Therapy (BCT), as it is called at Above and beyond Family Recovery Center, is actually Role Modeling. The same behavioral role modeling that we have heard of since we were little kids. Most of us think that we know what that is and how important it is to select "positive" role models, the "right" role models, so that we can aspire "correctly" to live the best lives we can. But what if that turned out to be a hill of beans (completely false, in other words)? Growing up, it is easier for us to learn how we want to choose to behave by observing the choices that others, around us, make as opposed to learning from the consequences of our own behavior. It's shorter and less painful. We do it without knowing we're doing it because that's how we're wired as human beings. We might not even become aware of the fact that we have constructed ourselves from borrowed parts of others. We might not become aware until someone points something out, or we see each other in a window reflection, or we have a moment of clarity when the delicate facade that we are so proud of, weakens for a moment and we see ourselves for who we really are. The young adopt most of their early attitudes and behaviors as a result of watching the adults in their environment. Beyond simple exposure, adolescents are likely to identify specific persons whose behaviors they deem to be more worthy than others and we call these "role models". Everyone picks them up even though we may not all be conscious, always, of who we're modeling or what behaviors we're mimicking. We just notice people around us, advertisements, Facebook memes, fashion on the street, influencers, and all kinds of vicarious or "second hand" role modeling where we may not even know who the original role model is that we've absorbed and are imitating . . . we just like it, so we start doing it. But we picked it up by looking around us and mak5
ing a choice of what to model, or imitate, based on a conscious or subconscious need to "herd" or be accepted or rejected by others. Who we really are shows up in the company of others, not in fantasies that we create in the confines of our own brains. It's sad that we make so many behavioral choices this way, but that's why we're writing this material . . . to help us all awaken to the fact that many of us may have become victims of our own doing. We see. We choose. We do. The choices we end up making depend on whether we want to self-punish or punish others on our way to "successful outcomes", which have been, for the most part, defined for us by legions of carefully chosen role models, all shining examples of having achieved the "American Dream", whatever that is. Unfortunately, this "American Dream" has taken several turns in the road and has morphed into meaning something like: owning the world, having the biggest, the most, and enjoying the insulation that extreme materialism can luxuriously afford. In reality, the anitdote for this is, "if you want more, desire less". It's easier and far more satisfying. But if we see daddy hit mommy, we may hit mommy when we become daddies without even thinking about it. It would be natural because that's what we grew up watching and, with no intervention or positive role model to counteract what we had accepted as normalized familial behavior, we would do as we had see. If we think poorly of ourselves, perhaps because we have been told we are worthless during our formative years, then we might either: 1) Counteract the pain that has been inflicted upon us, against our will while we were powerless, by choosing a role model, cartoon or fiction or movie role or person, who is powerful and will help us aspire to defend ourselves and hurt those 6
who have hurt us, or 2) We can isolate and model ourselves after celibate monks or sulking lonely cowboys, all the time not realizing that we are role modeling subconsciously in reaction to our environment. We've encountered a surprising number of patients who have been traumatized by their social environments and have chosen self-destructive role models. Many have made themselves numb to their pain through the abuse of substances. That's another benefit of drinking and drugging excessively, the peace and fog it brings, until we sober up or crash. That's why we're here, offering up Jesus of Nazareth as a role model worthy of paying some serious attention to. He was about the best that any of us have ever been or could ever hope to be and he has very little downside . . . no dark years, no skeletons in the closets, no ex-wives or "me too" allegations. He was a wise person who behaved in a consistent and easy-tofollow way. We've chosen, for this phase of BCT, to pay attention to only certain behaviors, not all of them. We've saved the rest for Phase II of this program, which is soon to follow. So please don't waste a great deal of time looking for his faults because we've excluded that part from this Phase I. Just save up any criticisms of Jesus, other than the matters we've chosen, for when Phase II is introduced so that we don't spend any amount of time on what this Phase does not include. We are very careful to point out that we are only interested in the BEHAVIORS of Jesus, not any of the other, more spiritual aspects of his life and death. Although there's a little scripture that we've made reference to, it is only for the standpoint of perspective and context that we offer it, and we refer to the Bible as a historical reference, not for its holiness. We will not be studying any miracles, the faith or spiritual aspects of his life on earth, because these are the non-behavioral 7
aspects of what has nothing to do with BCT. We make no claims on the validity or lack-of validity regarding the non-behavioral aspects of Jesus's behaviors, we just ignore them. They're irrelevant to what we're trying to do here. We've made references The person of Jesus, not the diety, will become our role model and we will examine his most relevant, admirable traits and do our level best to imitate them whenever we are able. The strongest, most usable tool in our shed is REBT, and it is the instrument by which we augment our individual behaviors which steer us down this path of conducting ourselves according to the observed actions and behaviors of Jesus. We do our best to imitate these behaviors through our common behavior, which eventually becomes our Total Behavior. The "why" of doing all of this is to be left to each, individual pursuant to discern as there are too many variants of motivation to discuss, examine, and adopt or reject. There may be those amongst us whose prior historical choices of behaviors has been flawed and have led us to undesirable destinations in our life journeys. We may want to choose a model of behavior which is less prone to attract misery and unwanted despair into our lives. Therefore, we have elected to choose a model of behavior which has been proven, to us, to be more dependable, consistently prone to deliver more desirable results, and more heavily endorsed by those we want to impress than our own. With all of this said, the question becomes one, or several, of "as viewed from the hypothetical standpoint of Jesus being a human being, how did he behave?" In order to sufficiently answer this question in a way that will yield usable standards which are applicable in today's world, we need to collect his behaviors in order to construct a consistent behavioral model of how Jesus of Nazareth interacted with society and those around him.
Our intention is to show the usefulness of Jesus's consistent, behavioral display of: Love, generosity, forgiveness, gratitude, hope, deliberate attention, selflessness and, primarily, how he exhibited these qualities through his demeanor and interactions with others . He displayed these behaviors most unexpectedly, when faced with stimulus that would typically trigger reactions quite opposite. How Long Should Improvement Take? The time that this process should take defies definition. It could be a very short time and it could be the length of an entire lifetime and either way is perfectly ok. The specialness of all of this is that it focuses on the journey, not the destination, and we have to learn to be ok with that. Because Above and Beyond is a "Harm Reduction" behavioral outpatient center, we embrace any level of improvement as acceptable and worth celebration. According to some very important scientific studies, it takes, on average, more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic - 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In the study that we're referring to (Lally), it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life not a week, not 21 days. So get off your own back about changing who you've spent your lifetime-to-date constructing. Interestingly, the researchers also found that "missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process." In other words, it doesn't matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an allor-nothing process. 9
Here are three reasons why this information about "show change" is actually inspiring: First, there is no reason to get down on yourself if you try something for a few weeks and it doesn't become a habit. It's supposed to take longer than that! There is no need to judge yourself if you can't master a behavior in a few short days or weeks. Second, you don't have to be perfect. Making a mistake once or twice or thrice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, and develop the self-forgiving strength to get back on track quickly. And third, embracing a longer timeline can help us realize that habits are a process and not an event. It's way too really easy to think, "Oh, I'll just sign up for this group and it'll be done." But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process. You have to commit a longer-term than that. Understanding this from the beginning makes it easier to manage your expectations and commit to making small, incremental improvements over a long period of time - rather than pressuring yourself into thinking that you have to do it all at once. How long it takes to form a particular Jesus habit doesn't really matter that much to us, whether it takes two weeks or two months. You still have to put in the same amount of work either way. The only way to get to Day 254 is to start with Day 1, which might as well be today. We suggest you forget about the number and get focused on starting the journey. As a wise man once said, "Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." It's our experience that the work itself, is much easier than starting the work. Just take a deep breath and make the plunge. Stop overthinking it and do it, just get a start. 10
Today is Tomorrow If you are going to start tomorrow, then hang onto your hat while nothing happens, ever. Dale Carnegie said, "Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday". The facts are: yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not here yet, which leave only today to work with. There is no better time to start our behavioral modeling than today, right now. As Bill Joel put it:: Today is tomorrow's yesterday You can't take back one unkind word you say If you are making pland to change your life of sin Then start today because today could be thee end. Love When we talk about "Christian" behavior, we are talking about the behavior of those of us who have accepted, by the observed and recorded behaviors, Jesus as their behavioral model and thus making it possible for them to serve themselves and those around them in the best way possible. Although any and every form of unconditional love epitomizes Jesuslike behavior, examples of Christian behavior are woven throughout historical records. Indeed, Jesus himself spoke at length about the way we are to behave toward others, friends and enemies. More than that, however, the life he lived, accentuated by his love and compassion for the lost, provides the consummate example of what Christian behavior should look like. Behavioral Christians have "created themselves to act like Jesus in order to do good works". And these last four words "to do good works" epitomize the actions that glorify Jesuslike behavior and make the behaviors of Jesus real to others. Granted, there are obstacles in our daily lives that can encumber our minds and hinder our behavioral modeling progress. Nonetheless, Chris11
tians are called to live lives that are "holy and pleasing to others", and exemplary Christian behavior that allows us to fully commit ourselves to behaving in the way Jesus did is made possible as we empower ourselves. Christians are to be "doers of the Word" (James 1:22). As the apostle James informs us, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we are spiritual by only hearing the Word. Hearing is not the same as doing. "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:17, 26). Belief, as taken synonymously to faith, must be demonstrated by actions and it is precisely this end goal that we have dedicated ourselves to as Behavioral Christians. The "actions" that mimic the behaviors of Jesus are those that bear the most abundant fruit. This is, in fact, how we show we are his behavioral students. Indeed, the fruit of the Spirit - love (primarily), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control should be the hallmarks of Jesuslike behavior, especially love. Yet our tendency is to sometimes look down on those whose lifestyles are not in sync with our own, and this is where Behavioral Christianity can be challenging. It is easy to show love to those who walk as we do. It's not always so easy to be kind to those who ridicule our beliefs, show contempt for our actions and choice of lifestyle, or make a mockery of the institutions that we hold as important. Yet Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us through the way he behaved while he was alive and walked amongst us. Recall how he dealt with the woman caught in adultery. Her captors wanted her dead; he showed compassion even though he was the one who would have to die for her (and our) sinful behavior. Jesus came into the world to save us, not to condemn us, and if Jesus did not come to condemn sinners, neither should we as Behavioral Christians. As it was said (by St. Francis of Assissi), "Preach the gospel always, using words if necessary," which means the validity of our 12
beliefs is in how we live our lives. At one point, Paul discussed Jesuslike behavior in Ephesians (chapters 4-6), by summing it up in these few words: "Be imitators of [God] . . . and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us". Paul urged the Christians in Rome to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices" (Romans 12:2). This, ultimately, is the essence of true Christian behavior - surrendering our hearts and yielding our bodies to Jesus (metaphorically speaking) so he might continue God's work through us. We are to be beacons of light in a dark world, using our spiritual gifts to advance ourselves and our love for each other. It is living here on earth the way Jesus lived when he was here. We do this when we abide in his example and then live it out as we are enabled by his actions. As he was dying on the cross, Jesus looked out at his executioners and asked his father to forgive them. Jesus was doing more than fulfilling prophecy and making "intercession for the transgressors". He was practicing what he preached. The parables that Jesus used as metaphorical examples of his teachings, are works of creative brilliance. Three great stories of agape love (selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love) are: The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Widow's Mite. The first describes the power of compassionate response to echo down through the ages; the second captures the unconditional love of a father even after he has been insulted by his son in every way imaginable; the third shows how much it means when someone who has almost nothing gives a small contribution. Jesus loved people through improvising stories galore, for he was a literary genius. He was also creative in resolving ethical disputes, offering Solomonic resolutions (marked by notable wisdom, reasonableness, or discretion especially under trying circumstances). He had an unusually free creative mind. 13
How should we deal with difficult people? Some people in our lives may be difficult simply because they challenge us. Or they may be difficult because they are different. Or they may be difficult because we live with them (and close proximity amplifies foibles). Or they may be difficult because we are difficult and something about us just rubs them the wrong way. Or they may just be difficult.
Regardless, by growing as Jesus-observers we can learn to accept the inconvenient, the incongruent and the bothersome (people and events) in our lives not just as necessary nuisances but as gifts. When we are open and receptive to all the world has to offer, and all the world has to teach us, then everything becomes illuminated from within. Then we see that everything is, or can be, connected to our quest for beauty and order. Everything "belongs": old dolls, decrepit diaries, discarded buttons, difficult people. Seeing difficult people in such a positive light seems like a tall order. But we can start by learning to deal with other people in a Jesus-like way. Jesus Asks Questions: In Chapter 12 of Luke, Jesus is asked to settle a family dispute and basically responds, "Who do you think I am, Judge Judy?" (a loose translation). Jesus' questions were sometimes rhetorical, or challenging, and at other times he was also seeking feedback. By using questions, Jesus emphasizes his openness to the others. It is funny, but we humans tend not to ask a lot of questions. We assume, we pontificate, we lecture, we observe, we interrupt and we judge. But we rarely make it a point to ask other people questions. In using questions frequently, Jesus is modeling the 14
behavior of a good communicator, one who cares about the other person enough to engage with them and challenge them. Even, and perhaps especially, when they are being difficult. Jesus Is Never Cornered: In Chapter 6 of Luke, Jesus is taking a Sabbath stroll with his disciples and the Pharisees pop up out of nowhere and accuse them of breaking the Sabbath by picking grain. Jesus is unflustered. He is never scared of the people who try to slip him up or think the worst of him, because what other people think is not his focus. We have enough on our plates, most of us, that we cannot also be in charge of what other people think of us. We actually can't control that in any way, so let's stop giving it so much real estate in our heads. It's a waste. Sometimes people corner us with their assumptions and judgments, and we can begin to wonder if the way they see us is more objective than how we see ourselves. It is hard when we feel like others misunderstand us or do not take the time to get to know us before judging. But, like Jesus, we do not have to feel defined by the projections of other people. Our identity resides and is found in our internal psychology, not in what other people try to push on us, externally. We cannot control what other people think of us. That's not up to us. Jesus Knows When to Ignore: Remember that time when Jesus angered all of his former neighbors and friends in his hometown of Nazareth? They were so worked up that they decide to throw him off a cliff. Jesus, seeing that there is no reasoning with these people, walks through the crowd, ignores their rage, and "went on his way" (Luke 4). Sometimes difficult people throw tantrums, speak harshly or treat us in an abusive way (online). This is the cue to disengage and walk away. Jesus knew how to keep his blood pressure in check and his eyes on the prize. Of course, if we have to deal assertively with someone who does this in person, a face-to-face 15
discussion might help. Jesus Is Not Defensive: In Chapter 10 of Mark, James and John say to Jesus: "We want you to do for us whatever we ask." Wow. Talk about overstepping boundaries! But Jesus is not codependent, so neediness and boundary crossing is not threatening to him. He knows when to say no and when to say yes and does not beat himself up when he doesn't make other people happy. Sometimes people can demand more from us than what we can give them. They may try to sway us with guilt trips. Before we know it we find ourselves bending over backward trying to satisfy a needy or aggressive person (who is rarely satisfied!). But Jesus does not try to people please. Jesus does not need to protect himself from other people; Following his example helps guide our behavior and usually this is enough security. As we practice this more and more, and get better at it, then this is where our own non-defensiveness can come from. Jesus Is Flexible: In Matthew 15, a Canaanite woman demands that Jesus heal her daughter and Jesus says no. But then he is moved by the woman's response of faith and heals her daughter. Jesus approaches others with an open mind. Even when he had preconceived notions, he allowed the lady's need to move him and go against his instincts. When a difficult person approaches us, we may think, Oh great, here we go again, or I know how this will go, but Jesus kept an open mind when he was approached by others. You never know. The Spirit may move you, or the person who is normally difficult, to act in a different, unexpected way. Being closed to others closes us to the behaviors that are generally best for us. Here's a little meditation, or prayer, that can be pretty helpful: Jesus, help me see you in everyone, even the people who challenge me. Light me up with your radiant love so that I may see you even in the most difficult of people. Every human being is 16
made in your image. Help me to recognize you and love you in them. Demeanor "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who ... humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death..."
Philippians 2:5, 8 His demeanor was characterized as quiet and gentle. He did not live to please himself and he did not seek honor from the men and women around him. Although many of us wanted to give him praise and honor, he emptied himself, humbled himself, and often took on the role of servant. When he was oppressed and afflicted, he did not open his mouth to blame, explain, or complain. He kept silent, without turning away, giving his highest priority to whomever was in front of him. He gave more attention to the needs of those around him than to his own and he was very pleasant about it. He was not sarcastic or hurtful except when he was calling out hypocrisy, falsehood, or fake news. One of his main guys, Luke, heard him say, "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it..." He was a pretty chill guy who smiled a lot and listened to everyone. Deliberate Attention In interacting with others, Jesus was extraordinarily attentive, showing a humble willingness to respond in depth to what others had spoken. In his many healings, people cry out to him in need. Simply by listening and a touch, he offered them hope and wholeness. He listened carefully to his enemies and responded to them thoughtfully. He had immense patience 17
with his disciples even when he had every reason to be impatient. Generosity Jesus said, "Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full - pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back." "Give, and you will receive" is the behavioral principal upon which Jesus lived his life The two areas where many of us can be the stingiest are money and forgiveness. So after all that Jesus taught us in the previous statements about graciousness and generosity, can be summed up with these two principles: 1) Our blessings will be based on our willingness to bless others, and 2) our measure of treating and judging others will be the basis used for how we are treated and judged by others. In other words, we have been the recipients of grace and graciousness; we can either share that graciousness or abuse it. Grace is wonderful and free until we take it off the market and out of circulation in our relationships. If we stymie, hold, or remove God's grace from circulation, it becomes damaged and lost with us. With everything that he did, Jesus gave us an example of extreme generosity to follow. On many occasions he showed us true generosity. His love and the principles of altruistic giving were the sources of his generosity. He then stepped into the opportunities that were put before him, not the ones he sought out because they were comfortable to him. He didn't run away from the hard stuff or ignore big problem that tended to overwhelm everyone else. Rather, he chose to be generous. Also, he didn't just view the needs in a general way only. He saw the people to whom he could be generous. He really saw them and their needs. 18
Here's an example: "When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot from the towns. As He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd, felt compassion for them, and healed their sick." Jesus displayed his generosity by disregarding his own intention to be alone, changed his mind to serve the needs of the people and actually did something to help them. He gave of his resources to help others right at the time when it would be most inconvenient for him. In this example, we see Jesus' compassion for the hurting. His compassion drove him to action. He did exactly what the masses wanted him to do no matter what he had originally intended. When you see or feel a need, that is your invitation to join in with your generosity: 1. Pray for the needs of others to be met 2. Volunteer your time to meet needs of others no matter how valid you judge them to be 3. Use your talents to meet needs of others no matter how valid you judge them to be 4. Give financially to meet the needs of others no matter how valid you judge them to be If you're being called to be bold in your generosity, then get ready: as you step out to meet needs, the blessings that you receive will be much more than you gave. Jesus is depicted as a healer who responded to the needs of the suffering even on the Sabbath and was roundly criticized for this by the authorities. He responded to those who would otherwise have been stoned to death. Generous compassion was perfectly captured in his parable of the Good Samaritan, a man who responded immediately and directly to a wounded man bleeding 19
by the side of the road. Nothing could make him act in a way contrary to compassion - not a busy schedule or social stigma, as in the case of the Samaritan woman most others would not talk to. Jesus just did what compassion required of his generous heart, whenever and wherever. Forgiveness Jesus's behavior indicates a consistent demonstration of overt, easily identified forgiveness right up to his execution on the cross, where he publicly forgave those who had put him there. In fact, forgiveness is a dominant theme throughout his life, as demonstrated in his behaviors. The act of forgiving does not come easily for most of us. Our natural instinct is to recoil in self-protection when we've been injured. We don't naturally overflow with mercy, grace, and understanding when we've been wronged. However, if we model ourselves after the desirable behaviors of Jesus, it becomes easier. Forgiveness is a choice we make. It is a decision of our will, motivated by a desire to defuse damaging situations and to release ourselves from the inescapable bondage that anger and resentment creates. Jesus did not hold onto his resentments; he instantly forgave whatever grievances anyone had against him. He also spoke about this at great length, telling his followers to "Forgive as you have been forgiven". Jesus was loyal to Peter and forgave him even after Peter had publicly denied him. Even when rejected he was loyal and forgiving, as in his lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). He was forgiving of those who had condemned him when, before his death, he prayed, "Lord, let this cup pass from my lips; nevertheless, not as I would but as you will." There was never anyone, however maimed or ill or rejected, whom he did not affirm in generous forgiveness, devoid of any judgement, long after every20
one else had negated them. How do we forgive when we don't feel like it? We forgive by belief-in and response-to our counselor and the therapeutic process that introduced the benefit of mimicking Christ's behaviors to us. Since forgiveness goes against our nature, we must forgive by these beliefs, coupled with our prior failed attempts to respond-in-kind, whether we feel like it or not. We must trust our counselors decision to use this technique to do the work in us that needs to be done so that our forgiveness will be complete. Our positive response to the therapeutic alliance will help us to forgive when it seems entirely unnatural. How will we know if we have truly forgiven? Lewis B. Smedes wrote in his book, Forgive and Forget: "When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself." We will know the work of forgiveness is complete when we experience the freedom that comes as a result. We are the ones who suffer most when we choose not to forgive. When we do forgive, se set our hearts free from the anger, bitterness, resentment, and hurt that previously imprisoned us. Most of the time forgiveness is a slow process: When Jesus was purportedly asked, "how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Jesus' answer makes it clear that forgiveness is not easy for us. It's not a one-time choice, and then we automatically live in a state of forgiveness. Essentially, Jesus was saying, keep on forgiving until you experience the freedom of forgiveness. Forgiveness may require a lifetime of forgiving, but it is important to your mental wellbeing. We must continue forgiving until the 21
matter has been settled in our heart. What if the person we forgive doesn't accept it? Here's what he supposedly said to this issue: "You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be" better than that. As we forgive, we start to see the person we're forgiving without the shackles and filters of our own disapproval, anger and judgement, and we realize that he or she is precious to others around him or her. They have a life and value to their family just as we do. We also see ourselves in a new light, just as guilty of sin and failure as the other person. We too are in need of forgiveness. Whether or not our parents and friends have withheld their forgiveness of us, why should we withhold our forgiveness of another? Is it okay to feel anger and want justice for the person we need to forgive? Although it is normal for us to feel anger toward unwarranted harm and injustice towards us, it is not our job to judge the other person in their misbehaviors. It's unhealthier for us than it is for them. Jesus was heard to say something like, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." So that's what's required of us then. And it only makes sense that if we don't forgive, neither will we be forgiven (please keep in mind that not being able to forgive ourselves is as self-injurious as not being forgiven by another). 22
Most times, being able to put words to our forgiveness of another involves an element of self-forgiveness. The paradox of "hurt people hurt people" is "healed people heal people" and "forgiving people forgive people". In summary, we forgive because it is the best choice we can make. It is a decision. However, as we do our part "forgiving" those who move against us, we discover the instruction to forgive exists for our own good, and we receive the reward of our forgiveness, which is psychological and social freedom. This is one of the foundational pillars of Albert Ellis's Unconditional SelfAcceptance (USA) Gratitude Practiced as a spiritually-inspired behavioral discipline, the gratitude expressed by Jesus and the gratitudinal behavior he exhibited almost constantly was key to his seemingly perfect realignment with his meaning and purpose in life. It was everywhere, constant, and unavoidable. Here's a theological sequence that is paramount to understanding this: gratitude begets humility, which begets an obvious, behavioral grace and a peace that we all want. Gratitude has been called the "gateway" spiritual discipline and begets humility because it reveals our human neediness. Humility is a heart condition that recognizes that all of our blessings have been received, not earned. It understands how utterly deprived we stand before our counterparts in society. We simply can't advance spiritually, be saved, or even love one another without loving ourselves first. As we make this pathway (of gratitude, humility and grace) a habit, it allows us to experience more of our own, previouslyhidden, presence and power.
What About When We Suffer? Gratitude flows easily when we've landed our dream job or just fell head-over-heels for a potential life partner. It's easy to lift up some heavenly appreciation when we only receive a warning (instead of a ticket) for speeding. But what about when we don't get our way? Or what about when tragedy strikes? Can we still
be thankful then? Indeed, life is not always a buffet of delicious circumstances where we get to pick and choose which items we put on our plate. Sometimes we get served a dish of lemons. Yuck.
Fortunately, Behavioral Christianity doesn't require us to "turn our lemons into lemonade"- a clichĂŠ that might be found in some cheesy self-help book. Certainly, painful events can shape us and build our character, but that doesn't mean we have to simply smile through the pain and pretend everything's fine. Any behavioral pattern of gratitude that doesn't allow for grief is at best misguided. Can you imagine a passerby saying to Jesus, while on the cross, to "turn that frown upside-down"? Ingesting life's difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it's not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It's based on an ideal and a dedication to making the best choice for ourselves in the moment. The answer to our pain and suffering isn't creating more pain and suffering for ourselves and those around us, but to behave like Jesus did in all circumstance where we are able, not just some. Jesus not only suffered for us, but he suffered with us. Jesus understood our pain and empathized with us which calls for us to understand and empathize with the pain of those around us. Yet it's easy to miss our current blessings when pain overwhelms us, however. Most of us have shaken our fists toward heaven more than once in agony. Even so, our gifts are still there for us to take advantage of (once we get over our anger and start appreciating them). If any of us were in Jesus' shoes, we'd calmly inform each other that our misfortunes are the result of how we're interpreting them and have no inherent root in the circumstances themselves. The misfortunes don't care about anything . . . they're inert, they just "are". It's how we interpret them that gives us the pain we have. We cause our own pain. One reaction to pain, that's always there whether we see it or 26
not, is gratitude. Saying "thank you", a choice we always have, as did Jesus, will always reveal unseen positivity. It's a choice we cannot abdicate even though we rarely make it our first choice. We can't control many things in our lives, but we can always control our reactions to what we're given. Then, we'll receive the full miracle of other seemingly common events like watching sunsets, eating dinner with a friend or sleeping in a comfortable bed as undeserved blessings. In practicing gratitude, every day is a treasure hunt. Gratitude and Meaning Just like Jesus' life was full of obvious meaning, our own personal meaning is available for discovery in every moment of our lives. Yet if we continually fail to see, no, seek it, it remains hidden. And yet, once we experience meaning and begin to discern it in every area of our lives, we suddenly find that there is more to discover. We can awaken and improve our ability to discern meaning, an ability that is present in everyone. Then, as we go about the tasks that call us, when we are receptive to the gifts bestowed on us daily, and as we choose an attitudinal stance in our lives, we discover meaning. At AnB, we contend that gratitude strengthens all three avenues of discerning meaning as discovered by Dr. Viktor Frankl: Creative, experiential, and attitudinal. Gratitude is an act; it is something that we consciously do. Gratitude is also an embodied experience; it may be subtle, or it may flood our whole being with feeling. And gratitude is an attitude. We must identify that being grateful is a meaningful value, and then choose to embrace that value before we will act to show gratitude or be open to feeling it. Gratitude ignites a chain reaction. We feel deeply grateful, for instance, for an act of kindness shown to us. We choose to say, "Thanks." We have chosen our attitude: This is a worthwhile 27
thing to do. Then we do. Having acted on a meaningful value (gratitude), we also experience the pleasant emotions and feelings, the meaning, of giving thanks. And that reinforces that our chosen attitude is meaningful. Gratitude allows us to see the people and things in our world which help us. We start to appreciate the things in our world that are simply there, given for us to enjoy: Sunlight, trees providing oxygen, water, love, friendship, life itself. The experience of gratitude takes us down the experiential avenue of meaning As our capacity increases to open to that beyond ourselves, our ability to feel gratitude sharpens. "Thank you," is no longer automatic, a social nicety. It is a real expression of what we feel deepdown. And, perhaps, as we notice all the things we are grateful for, we may start to feel connected to everyone & everything. Does this make us approach our world differently? Do we choose to respond differently to people, objects & the Earth? If we do, we are more consciously choosing our attitude, aligned to meaningful values. A gratitude practice sensitizes the practitioner to the noetic dimension, wherein the will to meaning exists. Gratitude is, therefore, a way to strengthen our meaning-discovery muscle. Gratitude, like meaning, is a spiraling (rather than a circular) movement. No matter where we start, we are led to discover meaning in what we do, experience, and how we choose to live. Every time we complete a circuit of meaning-discovery, we strengthen our ability to find meaning. Our meaning-muscle is toned. It becomes available for increasingly subtle and demanding activities. We are now capable of finding meaning even in the most difficult situations. A simple act of saying, "Thank you", done sincerely, reminds us that we are not alone. Suddenly, the world does not revolve 28
around us. We realize that we needed the person (or thing, or event) we have thanked in order to do what was required of us. Knowingly or not, by looking beyond ourselves in that moment, we have engaged self-transcendence. Done once, our focus expands a little. Done many times, our meaning-horizon enlarges. Our self-transcendence may expand to an awareness of an Ultimate Consciousness for which to be grateful, or simply to the universe of wonder, too complex to comprehend, but which provides for us, somehow.
As with everything, practice in gratitude is required. Just as having a good understanding of the theory of meaning-discovery will not result in the discovery of meaning, it does not help just thinking that gratitude is a fine idea. It has to be lived in the same way Jesus lived it. Like training for a marathon, starting small is all that is needed. Daily gratitude - for something you accomplished, something wonderful that came your way, a choice you made that was aligned to your values - is how the practice starts. One of the essentials to living a life filled with meaning is to be guided by conscience. But listening to conscience is a skill that requires practice. Ancient wisdom holds that silence is the route to becoming fully receptive to inner guidance, to intuition and conscience. So too with gratitude. It is particularly the experience of gratitude, the feeling it generates, that is heightened in stillness. When we are still it is easier to recognize how much there is to be grateful for. Humility helps a great deal. Without it, there is no awareness that gratitude is even necessary, let alone valuable. And if that insight is lacking, the first step on the gratitude/meaning circuit will never be taken. The greater the humility, the greater the awareness of how much for which there is to be grateful. And since we only sincerely give thanks for that which is meaningful, 29
we then realize how much in our lives is meaningful. Abundance abounds and our world is further enlarged (even though, in many cases, it's not the actual abundance that has materially changed, but it's been our awareness of, or thoughts about, abundance that have changed significantly). So, when our will to meaning is frustrated and we rage, despair and we cling to our addictions, gratitude may be the antidote. What we're doing here in Behavioral Christianity, is modeling his behavior. When our meaning-horizon narrows, gratitude lifts and widens our gaze. When we feel weak and small, gratitude is the exercise program that will get us back on the road, out in front, leading our meaningful lives. It is important to make a clear distinction between gratitude and thanks. Though often genuine, thanks can be a polite, learned response. It is an expectation in our interactions, and is a cognitive, sometimes calculated, social nicety. It can even be used ironically or sarcastically, said in a way to convey that we are anything but thankful. True gratitude, on the other hand, is an innate response, deeply meaningful to us, which often appears unexpectedly and may even feel undeserved. It originates from our spiritual core and is always authentic. Gratitude has been defined in many ways. As with any innate quality, attempts to convey its true meaning in words fail. Nevertheless, here are four definitions for their different perspectives: Firstly, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (9th ed.) defines gratitude as "being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness" (p.593). This definition reflects that gratitude is an attitudinal stance (readiness), an action (show appreciation, return kindness), and also an experience (being thankful). Secondly, Robert Emmons (2007) writes thus, "Firstly, gratitude is the acknowledgement of goodness in one's lifeâ&#x20AC;ŚSecond, gratitude is recognizing that the source(s) of this goodness lie at least 30
partially outside the self" (p.4). This introduces the notion that the goodness we are grateful for is a gift, made all the more significant for being bestowed on us, benevolently. This definition also implies an attitudinal stance, requiring us to be receptive and aware in order to both acknowledge and recognize life's gifts. Thirdly, a French proverb (attributed to Jean Massieu) states, "Gratitude is the memory of the heart." This proverb links gratitude with the quality of love. Now we anchor gratitude in the noetic dimension, where we know our discernment of love resides. And as our ability to apprehend love resides here, so too, I contend, does our awareness of gratitude. Further, the implication is that gratitude is meaningful; meaningful enough that we wish to preserve it in that most sacred of places: the heart. And, finally, Sansone and Sansone (2010) provide perhaps the most encompassing, broad perspective by defining gratitude as "â&#x20AC;Śthe appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself and represents a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation" (p.18). We all recognize the value of gratitude. Paradoxically, this is highlighted when we experience the opposite: Ingratitude. When we spontaneously and genuinely extend our kindness or help, but feel that our actions are not appreciated, we are less inclined to expend the same energy toward that person or situation again. Two quotes from Emmons's book (2007) highlight this sentiment: "Nothing more detestable does the earth produce than an ungrateful man," (Decimus Magnus Ausonius, p.140) and "I hate ingratitude more in a man than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness, or any taint of vice whose corruption inhabits our frail blood." (William Shakespeare, p.140). In the field of psychology gratitude is regarded variably as an affect, emotion, behavior or personality trait (Wood, Joseph & 31
Linley, 2007). Dr. Barbara Fredrickson studies positivity. She lists gratitude as one of the top ten positive emotions along with joy, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love (Fredrickson, 2009). But for centuries gratitude has been held in higher esteem than this. Said Cicero (106-43 BCE), Roman philosopher and politician, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of all the others." (Currently the seven virtues in the Catholic catechism do not include gratitude, but are regarded as prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity/love ("Virtues", n.d., part 3, chapter 1, article 7)). Centuries after Cicero, Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1328 CE), German theologian, philosopher and mystic, is attributed to have said, "If the only prayer you say in your life is "Thank you", it would be enough," supporting the notion that gratitude can be considered a human pursuit of the highest order. It is interesting that in psychology there has been a shift to acknowledging that "gratitude is a higher order life orientation" (Wood, Froh, & Geraghty, 2010, p.892), allowing one to appreciate the positive in the world and life experiences. Widespread interest in, and study of the effects of gratitude is recent; a focus for about 20 years. Many studies concentrate purely on gratitude, but many more include it when studying positive emotions. Physical. Gratitude is an embodied experience; it is felt. One of the pioneers in the study and application of gratitude, Br. David Steindl-Rast, highlights that our experience of gratitude has an element of "surprise" (Steindl-Rast, 1984). Thankfully, gratitude is always a happy surprise, a positive experience. He speaks of gratitude reflecting a feeling of "Great Fullness" (2005). Studies have shown that gratitude may increase lifespan. A study of the autobiographies of nuns showed that those who ex32
pressed positive emotions, including gratitude, lived about seven years longer than nuns who did not express these emotions. And those using the fewest positive words had twice the risk of death at any age compared to those using positive words (Danner, Snowdon & Friesen, 2001). Studies conducted at the Mayo Clinic (Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, & Offord, 2002), and echoed by a Dutch study (Giltay, Geleijnse, Zitman, Hoekstra, & Schouten, 2004), showed that optimists live longer. Optimists had a 50% and 55% lower risk of premature death, respectively, then those scoring high on pessimism. A regular gratitude practice may reduce the pain rating in chronic pain patients. This was found in a study documenting the positive effects of loving-kindness meditation, long practiced in Buddhism, in a group with chronic low back pain (Carson et al., 2005). Loving-kindness meditation requires focusing on (appreciating) a loving feeling, and then sending that feeling to oneself and others, in a stepwise process. A focus on what we appreciate, are grateful for, restores the heart to a regular rhythm. This was shown in studies conducted by the HeartMath Institute, using heart-centered appreciation and relaxation techniques (McCraty, Atkinson, Tiller, Rein, & Watkins, 1995). Positive heart rhythms are thought to indicate healthy heart and nervous system function, and an ability to adapt to one's environment appropriately (AnB is HeartMath Certified). It has been shown that a grateful disposition results in improved sleep. The first study to show this effect was conducted in patients with chronic neuromuscular disorders (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Wood, Joseph, Lloyd and Atkins (2009) confirmed that gratitude was positively correlated with better sleep quality, duration, latency, and negatively correlated with daytime dysfunction. The effect of gratitude is thought to function by resulting in positive presleep cognitions, which in turn are re33
lated to better sleep. The effect of gratitude was independent of the so-called Big Five personality traits of neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Psychological. A conscious focus on gratitude, as when engaging with a gratitude practice, may improve mood. As one cannot be resentful and grateful at the same time, a shift in focus from the former to the latter may explain this effect on mood. Depressed individuals are nearly 50% less grateful than nondepressed study subjects (Watkins, Grimm, & Kolts, 2004). Dr. Martin Seligman and colleagues (2006) developed an intervention called "positive psychotherapy", which they tested on depressed individuals. The intervention required participants to engage with the following exercises: Using signature strengths, thinking of three blessings, writing a positive obituary, going on a gratitude visit, active-constructive responding, and savoring. In the group setting, participants in the intervention group showed significant reduction in depressive scores and higher life satisfaction scores than control subjects. These changes were maintained even a year after the intervention was completed. Similar gains were found in one-on-one interventions in patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder. It has been shown that gratitude enhances the ability to retrieve positive experiences (Emmons, 2007, p.39). This seems to echo the metaphor I used in the Introduction of gratitude (and meaning-discovery) being like a muscle, which remains toned, and even enlarges, with use. A regular gratitude practice appears to strengthen social ties (Emmons, 2007, p.45; Fredrickson, 2009, p.92). As we reflect on people and events for which we are grateful, we feel connected. This may be especially relevant at a time with the highest recorded rates of loneliness in history: Rates of loneliness have increased from 11-17% in the 1970's to current levels of about 40% (Cacioppo, Grippo, London, Goossens, & Cacioppo, 2015). It is also well-known that social connec34
tion is vital for resilience. Another important effect of gratitude is in improving marriage. Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher of relationships, has shown that thriving marriages have a high "positivity ratio" (Gottman & Levenson, 1999). Practicing appreciation for, and feeling appreciated by, one's intimate partner is one of the best ways to maintain the relationship (Gordon, Impett, Kogan, Oveis & Keltner, 2012). In this time of high divorce and domestic violence rates, here is another reason why a focus on gratitude is worthwhile. Gratitude is a practice grounded in reality. As such it improves mental wellbeing by diminishing fear-based thinking. Fear is largely an expectation, an anxiety of what might befall one, and is seldom based in reality. And since one cannot hold gratitude and fear in the psyche at the same time, a focus on gratitude is a realistic way to displace fear. It has been shown that a gratitude intervention improves the mental health of health care practitioners. A study from Hong Kong reports the effects of a gratitude intervention in physicians, nurses, physio- and occupational therapists in the public health system recruited into the cohort (Cheng, Tsui & Lam, 2015). The cohort was divided into three groups: One kept a gratitude diary, one recorded a "hassle" diary, and a control group did neither. The participants recorded events twice a week over a four-week period. The results showed that the group expressing gratitude had significantly lower depressive and perceived stress levels. These effects were maintained at three-month follow up. People regularly engaging in a gratitude practice have a greater sense of wellbeing (Emmons et al., 2003; Wood et al., 2010). This may partly be accounted for at a physical level because those who feel grateful are more likely to exercise and comply with medical treatment. 35
A deeper motivation is that what we view as 'special' we nurture. Further, a sense of gratitude is associated with a greater sense of autonomy and control of one's life and a sense of purpose. Spiritual. As much as gratitude is an embodied experience, it connects us to something beyond ourselves. We can feel connected to other people, the world around us, or to a greater consciousness. Without exception, however, this connection awakens our human ability for self-transcendence. Our focus broadens. And as we step back from a limiting, self-centered view of reality, this big picture allows new perspectives and solutions to become evident. As we consciously engage in being grateful we return to an awareness of abundance. Perhaps we even acknowledge that this abundance surrounds us, flows to us, and is not created by us. We are opened to the realm of possibility when we review the evidence of all the wonderful things that have already come to pass for us. Abundance and possibility lie in the dimension beyond the physical, in what some may call the spiritual plane. The more we practice gratitude, the more concrete examples we have that we are supported in synchronous, spiritual ways that often defy reason. Faith becomes trust, based on the reality of our grateful experience. The more we find to be grateful for, the more we know that there always will be something for which to be grateful. When we also recognize gratitude in times of difficulty, our trust expands into something great and strong; something beyond ourselves. How liberating to relax into such allencompassing trust. We are left with this tantalizing thought: Perhaps, as gratitude induces greater psychophysiological coherence, it allows the entire human organism to become a better conduit for the spirit, the human essence. As our essence flows through us, it alters gene expression, changes neural activity, and provides us with a 36
meaningful experience of what it is to be wholly alive and human. As we more consciously make choices and enact them, we gain a sense of control over our lives. We are empowered from within and feel invigorated. We feel that life is worth living, and we eagerly anticipate the future. Studies have shown that gratitude is correlated with a sense of autonomy and control, acceptance and growth, and a sense of purpose in life (Wood et al., 2010). These experiences are similar to what we experience when we discover meaning. Here we have yet another point of similarity between gratitude and meaning: Both provide a sense of optimism and control. Gratitude groups. Gratitude can be practiced individually or in groups. An advantage of group practice is the opportunity to see the world through others' eyes. A group may be as small as two, when a couple or two friends, for instance, set aside time to formally tell each other about what they are grateful for. The focus of gratitude may be that particular relationship, or extend more broadly. A family is an ideal group to engage in a gratitude practice. Again, they may choose to focus on their experiences within that grouping, or extend their gratitude beyond these limits. And then there are groups of strangers who meet specifically to exchange their experiences of gratitude. Gratitude visit. A specific gratitude practice I want to mention is called a Gratitude Visit. This was first trialed by Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005), but struck me as a practice with deep roots in meaning. The practice involves writing a letter of about three hundred words to someone who is still alive and to whom the author holds deep gratitude which has never been expressed. The author details their gratitude to the specific person, detailing the event, its significance, and where the author is now as a result of that experience. The author then arranges to meet the person, without revealing the purpose of the visit, and sur37
prises the recipient with the letter. A version of this is the Gratitude Letter, where the letter is posted rather than delivered in person. It must be noted that though this practice has been shown to have profound impacts, for some it feels too overwhelming. The process of personal engagement with the recipient of the letter prevents many from completing the exercise (Huffman et al., 2014; Kaczmarek et al., 2015). Loving kindness meditation. Although not a direct practice in gratitude, I mention this meditation for a number of reasons. Originating in Buddhist practice, where it is called metta, this meditation is suitable for use by anyone, whether or not they have religious or spiritual beliefs. Like the will to meaning and apprehension of gratitude, it requires a connection with the spiritual dimension, through recall of love, for its fullest expression. And, like meaning and gratitude, it activates self-transcendence. Similar to some of the gratitude practices detailed above, it is a formal exercise, requiring dedicated time and focus. Over time the practitioner's capacity for love expands, reminiscent of the expanded perspective and sense of abundance which result from encountering gratitude and meaning. And, finally, a discussion of this meditation arose spontaneously during one of the Reflection Groups in the Demonstration Project. The request from the group was for it to be included in every session thereafter, which I did. They felt a natural link between loving kindness and gratitude.
Aids to Gratitude Choosing the right attitude. A few key words summarize the most important attitudes that support our recognition of gratitude: Humility, openness and allowing, faith and trust, respect (Emmons, 2007). Humility. With an attitude of humility we are more likely to rec38
ognize that we do not control life, only our responses to what happens. We are also more likely to admit that we need help, and ask for it when appropriate. If we can ask for help, we are likely to see what ways we are helped & provided for. It is then a short step to connecting with the gratitude that arises from such recognition. Our humble stance results in receptivity to all the good that is ours. It also enables us to freely acknowledge others and express our gratitude. Openness and allowing. Humility may lead us to greater openness and allowing, but these attitudes by themselves will greatly aid our awareness of gratitude. Because gratitude is an experience, it requires that we are able to feel, that we are prepared to examine what happens to and around us, and that we acknowledge our interconnectedness at all levels. Allowing oneself these experiences requires a degree of maturity and surrender. That in itself is learning. As we open and allow, the reward of the resulting goodness that flows to us is likely to ensure that we maintain these attitudes. Faith and trust. Faith is based in belief, whereas trust is based in knowing. Many may start a gratitude practice from a place of faith, particularly if they are religiously or spiritually inclined. But as a gratitude practice deepens, faith becomes trust because our practice teaches us that our trust is based in reality; we deeply come to know gratitude to be real. Trust then allows further surrender, greater openness. As we relax into this trust there is an increasing awareness of the abundance of positive things that is ours to experience and have and share. Respect. When we are respectful, of ourselves and others, we examine each encounter, each person, for what might be added to our experience. We accept rather than dismiss what happens. Respect broadens our perspective; it is inclusive. Everything, 39
even ourselves, is worthy of positive regard. If we practice with an attitude of respect we are more likely to engage with gratitude to begin with, and to continue the practice. We are worthy of the time and effort. We are worthy of the gifts we recognize are ours, and we accept that what we and others have to share is worthwhile and worthy of recognition. Creating the right environment. We require dedicated time for any practice, including that of gratitude. Because gratitude must be truly felt, we have to reconnect with events. We have to grant ourselves time and allow this connection to unfold. Especially when practicing at the end of the day, we need time for the mind to settle and to become reacquainted with our inner world. Further, this time must be free from distractions. A gratitude practice is greatly aided by quiet and stillness. Over time, if we practice at approximately the same time, in the same place, and follow the same pattern of settling, neural pathways are laid down which then actually hasten our access to the grateful feelings we wish to acknowledge. Barriers to Gratitude Knowing what might prevent us from fully engaging with gratitude is helpful. A stance of victimhood, a sense of entitlement, arrogance, and living by comparison are some of the important barriers (Emmons, 2007). Victimhood. The victim persistently sees the negative. Their perception is that almost everything happens to them, and rarely for their good. In no way do victims accept responsibility for their lives; not even for their responses to life. They fail to recognize that they have choices. Ironically, that they choose to blame everything and everyone for their hardship is a choice. Victimhood is a significant barrier to making choices and accepting responsibility, which are key aspects to discovering meaning. A victim's gaze is limited, turned 40
obsessively toward self. How difficult it is then to feel connected to others and the greater world; it is almost impossible to experience self-transcendence from a place of victimhood. Feeling gratitude, connectedness and self-transcendence require that the metaphorical gaze be turned outward, that we open to the world. Persisting in a stance of victimhood is like building a shield around oneself. But rather than protecting from further hurt, this shield blocks awareness of gratitude and the best that lies within (in the noetic core), with its potential to heal.
Entitlement. If we feel entitled we believe that our desires and fulfilment of those desires is more important than anyone or anything else; it is our right to do and have whatever we wish. To the entitled, nothing is a gift because all is expected as their right to have. This belief is held firmly, whether or not it is true. This self-centered approach leaves no room for awareness of others, for connection, to experiencing true gratitude for what is spontaneously gifted to us by life. There is no need to be grateful for what one perceives should be granted. From the entitled perspective it is difficult to understand the experiential avenue to gratitude or meaning. Further, as actions are a means to an end, not motivated by meaning, engaging in acts of gratitude would be nonsensical to the entitled. The inherent stance of entitlement is diametrically opposed to an attitude of gratitude; the former is rigid and closed while the latter is flexible and receptive. As with victimhood, the self-centered gaze is a barrier to experiencing self-transcendence which accompanies gratitude. Arrogance. Arrogance usually arises from a lack of self-worth and fear that others will notice this unworthiness. An inability to accept one's shortcomings and to accept that one is not entirely self-sufficient results in compensatory arrogance. In doing so, the unworthy self is seduced by the illusion of control and power which arrogance provides. To the arrogant, soma and psyche are engaged to force control over life, and the material world is where power is thought to reside. Arrogance blocks engagement 41
with certain aspects of the spiritual dimension. Engagement with the true human essence, and with the broader world, requires a degree of surrender which is threatening to, and confronts, arrogance. Without the necessary humility to accept that we need other people, that people contribute and add to our life experience, true gratitude is likely a foreign experience to those adopting an arrogant attitude. Living by comparison. Living a life of comparison with others is common but is also a barrier to gratitude. When we compare, our gaze is turned outward, but it is only in order to notice what others have, achieve, and are in order to compare with what we have, do and perceive ourselves to be. Comparison results from a sense of lack. We feel empty within and try to fill it from the external world. Our emptiness comes from a disconnection with the positive parts of our human essence. The inability to engage with gratitude (and meaning) is directly proportional to the degree to which we are disconnected from our true self. Gratitude is an intensely personal and unique experience. We therefore must first accept ourselves and our experiences as 'enough', as valid and in no way to be measured against the experiences of any other, before gratitude can fully be embraced as a worthwhile activity. Hope Jesus referenced hope almost constantly and seemed to bring up hope as one of his central themes in assuming his role and fulfilling his long list of messianic prophesies. Let's just say it was a big theme of his and even though it was primarily focused on Hope for the future, that things will be better if we decide to make them better, he also included Hope for the present, that we are not alone, but are loved and have purpose. Hope even over the past was not neglected by him, that our failures are not greater than our own power to amend and transform our memories. 42
When we as believers of Jesus, speak of hope, we don't mean hoping for material things or for the changing of people, places, and things that we have no right to exercise power over. No, our hope is directed towards our own ability to control our responses to the stimulus, both good and bad, that we receive from our environments, our memories, and our daily encounters with challenging problems. Our hope for forgiveness, for reconciliation with those around us and consistent peace in our hearts and minds, can all be attained by mimicking the behaviors (leading the life, in other words) of Jesus. One of Jesus' main followers, Paul, describes Jesus as "our hope" and "the blessed hope". He was heard to say, "Jesus not only came to bring hope. He is our hope." We have hope because Jesus forgave us unconditionally. Knowing Jesus brings contentment regardless of material possessions and joy despite difficult circumstances. Nothing can destroy this hope because it's stored in our hearts and our minds where no earthly power can touch it. By following the behaviors of Jesus we can experience a new birth into a living hope that's real every day. It's living because we keep the idea of Jesus alive in our heads, which offers us fresh, functional and effective behaviors to transform our hearts, minds, and actions daily. As we understand Jesus's forgiveness, we start forgiving others. As the reality of Jesus's sacrifice penetrates our hearts, we lay down our selfish desires. We begin to serve our families, our neighbors, and even strangers on the street. Although mundane, painful, and stressful events threaten to diminish our hope, Jesus renews our hope whenever we seek and follow him. The world lacks hope. Human beings are clamoring to fill their empty lives with stuff. Abuse, addiction, illness, and broken relationships surround us. People should know that Jesus was very overt, and vocal about hope, and he behaved in ways that 43
showed us that hope was alive everywhere even when it was not obvious. That the same hope that he believed in and demonstrated through his behaviors, is available to each and every one of us. Coronavirus The spread of a dangerous disease is certainly nothing to take lightly. However, in recent days and weeks, as new information revealing the reach of the Coronavirus continues to surface, people are panicking. Chinese businesses are taking significant hits; the stock market has dramatically dropped, worrying investors; and our Chinese brothers and sisters are being treated with racism and abuse, all seemingly for reasons based on fear. A dangerous, spreading virus is certainly not to be dismissed. But it is also an opportunity to offer the love and healing grace of Jesus to a world overcome by pain and fear. There is of course wisdom in washing hands often, spending more time indoors and taking wise precautions to prevent the viral spread. For those of us who are trying to channel the behaviors of Christ, however, we have many ways to tame our own, fear-based reactions to the Coronavirus. Fear begets restlessness, and when we are restless, we tend to panic, fixate on worst -case-scenarios and act chiefly out of self-preservation. In other words, fear cripples our ability to fulfill our calling to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus knew how relevant his command to "fear not" would be throughout the ages, considering that it is the most discussed topic in all of Scripture, with this two-word command repeated more than 300 times in the Bible. Jesus told us not to be afraid over and over again for a good reason; fear is a crippling motivator, as evidenced by our broader culture's current reaction to the Coronavirus. More than this, we are no longer slaves to fear because Jesus has promised to be with us and for us in sickness and 44
in health, in joy and in sorrow. An antidote to being fueled by fear is to love one another. Not that we take it as fact, but used as a rational colloquial truthism, 1 John 14:18 tells us, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear." Fear compels us to injure and lash out at our fellow human beings, to make rash decisions with money and other resources and to behave as if all of this work we've done to mimic the behaviors of Jesus was for nothing. It's not so but it seems like it sometimes. Love, on the other hand, is patient, kind and hopeful; it is not self -seeking or dishonoring to others. Having observed the way Christ, at the cost of his life, loved those who hated on him allows us to be free to love our fellow human beings with intentionality and sacrifice and without abandon. Rather than falling into panic, those whose eternity rests in the "saving health" of Jesus, who called himself our great Physician, are now free to live as instruments of his peace. "Peace I leave you; my peace I give you," Jesus said. Because our belief in the actions of Jesus brings us our peace, we have a resource that enables us to say "no" to our fears and "yes" to trusting the actions of Christ and loving our neighbors. Whatever external threats may loom, those threats for the believer are temporary. One very practical way that we can serve our neighbors is with our prayers. We can pray, right now, for every country and region and people group affected by the virus. We can pray that the further spread of the virus is reduced. And as we pray that the virus would cease to spread, we could ask that in its place, the good news of Christ, his actions and behaviors will spread in the wake of the virus's demise to make all things better. Finally, we can treat a global outbreak as an occasion to remem45
ber how the faithful have responded to such things in the past. It is followers of Christ, after all, who founded the vocation of healthcare, not to mention the many hospitals and clinics around the world that are named after a Christian Saint. Tracing even further back to the first three centuries A.D., we can draw inspiration from how Christians responded to the plague in Rome. As Roman citizens shielded themselves from transmission by sending their own sick relatives into the streets, it was Christians who went into the streets to retrieve them, tend to their needs and in many cases, welcome them into their homes so they could die with dignity. It is for reasons like these that one emperor whose agenda included exterminating all Christians from Rome through religious persecution and genocide conceded in a letter to a friend that he could not stop the rapid growth of the Christian "sect" because Christians treated Rome's poor, sick, and vulnerable with more care and compassion than Rome did. I hope that my fellow Behavioral Christians will, for the many reasons Jesus has given us for doing so, reject fear, panic and self -preservation. Instead, may we live as the light he has equipped us to be in a world overcome by pain and fear. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they have a wonderful saying about this: "Suit up and show up." This is the metaphorical instruction given to newcomers who are struggling with the new practice of being sober. There's another old saying among participants of self-help groups: "Bring the body, and the mind will follow." They both mean the same thing: stop procrastinating and act! If you're coming up short on motivation to participate in a recommended counseling or treatment program, we suggest that you consider these simple behavioral principles of cause and effect. You don't have to wait until you feel motivated to begin taking care of yourself. Nike has a nice, sweet ways of saying the same thing, "Just Do It!" Alcoholics often struggle with emotions that 46
feel overwhelming when they no longer have the alcohol to escape into. If you asked them to "feel like going to an AA meeting" before they went to one, the room would probably be empty. So the instruction is "Suit up and show up" so you can "Bring the body so the mind will follow" - just shut up, get dressed and go. How you feel about it doesn't matter. What matters is that you do it.
Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center 2942 West Lake Street, Chicago (773) 940-2960 anb.today www.behavioralchristianity.com 48