The good news:  if you are afraid of being alone… you are not alone, most people are.   I talked about it in my sermon this morning.  The deep fears behind being alone are the fears of being lonely, and the fear of being insignificant.  First, let’s tackle how to be alone and not lonely.   As a culture we have forgotten how to be alone.   We are just too connected all the time.   It’s time to re-learn how to be alone.   I’ve come across tons of lists on the subject, but here are 7 things that resonated with me. 

The first one is key.

  1.  Understand that you are good enough all by yourself.   Your value is not determined by anyone else.  
  2. Value others’ opinions, but value your own more.   Don’t always be swayed by what the world around us may say.  Take time alone to look at what you think; how you feel about an issue.
  3. Learn to be an observer.   The world around us is pretty fascinating.    Learn how to watch he world around us and appreciate it. We don’t have to be in the center of the action all the time. 
  4. Learn to appreciate silence.   Yes, silence is sometimes hard to come by.  When we find it we should relish it.  Spend some time this week in silence.  Listen to your breathing.   Turn the silent moments into prayer and see where God leads you.
  5. Learn how to talk to yourself.   I do it all the time.  Sometimes it just feels good to say things out loud, even if there is no one to hear it.   Of course, if you have a dog or cat.. you can cover by “chatting with the pets”.  I am often talking to the Holy Spirit… I know it seems crazy.  But as it turns out psychologist believe that talking to ourselves is therapeutic.  Let’s go with that.
  6. Cherish every interaction.  Enjoy the good interactions with others and learn from those that are not so good.
  7. Make alone moments count.   Every moment that we have on this earth is precious.   In our alone moments, we have incredible opportunities to think clearly about our lives, about the direct we want to go in.   In a world filled with noise and our over connected society, appreciate those moments when we are alone, we can find quiet and reflect. 

If you find yourself alone tonight, take a moment and re read these 7 steps.   As God to show you the path of peace while you are alone with your own thoughts.  

Tomorrow we start to look at the fear of disapproval, our need to be liked. 

Grace and Peace on this interesting Sunday in Lent.

Myra

I interrupt this regularily scheduled blog for a word of prayer. What a day it has been. Today (like most churches) we at Royal Oak First moved all of our worship to “on line” services and we closed the doors to the church for all services, gatherings and meetings for at least three weeks. To say this is unprecedented is an understatement. I know in my heart it was necessary, but the decision continues to weigh heavily on me. Yes, we will blast out “on line” church, on Sunday, bigger and better than ever. Yes, we will reach our children on line and through facebook. Yes, we will continue to feed the homeless and hungry; we will simply hand out meals at the door. Yes… but….. (part of me is looking out the widow to watch for a swarm of locust.)

I don’t know about you but I need to go to God. Let us pray.

O God, our help in ages past; our hope for years to come, grant us peace of mind. Calm our troubled hearts and anxious minds. Give us clarity and determination to walk the path that you have laid out for us with the knowledge and confidence we get from your love. Give us strength, O God. Help us to trust in your love, God and know that you will heal the stress of this day. Help us to remember that after the darkness of night, the sun rises each day. The light of your love breaks through the chaos and tells us that our faith is indeed stronger than our fear.

Be with our church, our community, our world and all of those who are impacted by the coronavirus. Bring us healing, Bring us comfort, Bring us peace.

(and all God’s children say….” AMEN

.Grace and Peace

Myra

That is the question:  can we be alone and not be lonely?   Let’s look at the difference between the two.  Being alone simply means we are by ourselves.  It is a state of being.  Loneliness is an emotion; the feeling of being abandoned, isolated and unvalued. Loneliness is a state of mind. We can feel lonely when we are alone, but the truth is we can also feel lonely in a crowd.   Loneliness is tied to self worth.  Mark Twain said, “The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with you self.”  In study after study, self esteem emerges as the most significant predictor of loneness.   We talked about this on earlier in the week;   we as a society have let cultural standards determine how we value ourselves.  Standards about how we should look, how we dress, what we should be doing.  And when we don’t fit into the mold or get confirmation from those around us, we start to doubt our value.   

Ben Martin, PsyD says:  “Contrary to many beliefs, the elderly are not the most lonely among us.  It is young people who are most lonely, and herein may lie some of the differences between being lonely and being alone.   Many elderly people have developed traits or habits that help them be comfortable with themselves alone.  They have found ways to keep busy mentally….. The young, however, are subject to a wide range of moods.  They are bored and restless to the point of being unhappy for no clear reason.  When they are not sought after and included in all activities of their peers, their self-esteem takes a hit.   When they are lonely they blame themselves and resort to activities that exclude social contact, such as watching too much television.” 

I remember one day when my daughter was about 10.  Someone at school had said something really mean about how she looked.  She was devastated.  I gave her the typical mom response.  “Well I think you are beautiful.”   To which she said.  “Of course you do, you have to… you’re my mom.”    I wonder if that is how we feel about God’s approval sometimes.  Of course, God loves us.  God is God; God created us.  What my daughter was really saying… and what we are saying when we minimize God’s love is “ I don’t believe you.”    It is hard for a child to believe that her mother might actually believe she was (and is) beautiful, that as parents we see the true beauty of our children.  In the same way it is sometimes to look at ourselves, our lives and believe that God truly sees the good and the beauty in us.  

Over and over again in scripture, God reminds us that God sees and loves, “not as the world sees and loves”.    The lens is different; it is bigger and deeper and clearer.  There and only there, in the eyes and the arms of a loving God is where our value lies. Let that sink in on this Thursday in Lent.

This week in my research, I am collecting some tips or steps to master the art of being alone and not lonely.   More tomorrow

Grace and Peace,

Myra

Combating the fear of being alone; that’s our topic for this week.   Every year on this day, I post on the blog the reading below.  It is from “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young, a book of daily devotions This is  the devotion from March 10.  In all my years of blogging, never have these words been more appropriate. The secret to being alone and not lonely is to know that we are loved and that we are secure in the arms of Jesus.   Enjoy.

“YOU ARE MINE FOR ALL TIME—and beyond time, into eternity. No power can deny you your inheritance in heaven. I want you to realize how utterly secure you are! Even if you falter as you journey through life, I will never let go of your hand. Knowing that your future is absolutely assured can free you to live abundantly today. I have prepared this day for you with the most tender concern and attention to detail. Instead of approaching the day as a blank page that you need to fill up, try living it in a responsive mode: being on the lookout for all that I am doing. This sounds easy, but it requires a deep level of trust, based on the knowledge that My way is perfect.

If the LORD delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm;

though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand. PSALM 37 : 23 – 24

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.

He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. PSALM 18 : 30

Grace and Peace

Myra

Lenten Blog Day 8  The Fear of Our Own Unknown.

The opposite of “our own unknown”  is our need to be known.  When did our lives become so dependent on being recognized, on the number of likes we get on a post or our ability to connect with hundreds of people through technology?   Is this need connected to our fear of being alone?    From William Deresiewicz’s classic article “The End of Solitude.”   “Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity.”   This week I’m blogging on the fear of being alone.   I begin with excerpts from this article that is “spot on”.   You can find the article in many places.  I found it here:  https://www.hermitary.com/solitude/deresiewicz.html   

As we live our lives with the desperate need to connect and to be known (says the woman writing a blog….), if we are not careful we will find ourselves living in relation to others.  We start to believe that what we think is only relevant or important if it is validated by others.   The event matters only when I capture a picture and get a hundred likes.  Deresiewicz goes on to talk about how we have allowed technology to take away our privacy and our ability to be alone.  We are “text” crazy.  The Pew Research Center tells us that 18-24 year old send and receive about 124 texts a day which translates into a text every 8 minutes of our waking hours.  Which basically means we are never alone.  (well, ok  that “we” is not really me… my age bracket had much lower numbers…lol… but you get the drift)

Dereisiewicz continues:  “Man may be a social animal, but solitude has traditionally been a societal value. In particular, the act of being alone has been understood as an essential dimension of religious experience, albeit one restricted to a self-selected few. Through the solitude of rare spirits, the collective renews its relationship with divinity. The prophet and the hermit, the sadhu and the yogi, pursue their vision quests, invite their trances, in desert or forest or cave. For the still, small voice speaks only in silence. Social life is a bustle of petty concerns, a jostle of quotidian interests, and religious institutions are no exception. You cannot hear God when people are chattering at you….”    Amen brother.   Jesus gives us the great example of this.  He goes off into the wilderness for 40 days;  he separates himself from the disciples to go and pray.  Jesus was not afraid to be alone. 

We are afraid to be alone first because we think that makes us insignificant, and second because we have forgotten how.   Can we learn how to be alone and not lonely?    Psychology Today says yes,  we can indeed  “cultivate the capacity to be alone well.”  

More on that tomorrow. 

Grace and Peace

Myra

Boy draws with a brush an abstract big light bulb. Concept of innovation and creativity

Lenten Blog Day Seven 6 Ways to Cope With Anxiety

During Lent, we are on quest to live UnAfriad, to live with courage and hope even in uncertain times.   Part of that quest is learning to cope with anxiety.   Last Sunday therapist Matthew Swartz gave a lecture at our church called “Anxiety Made Simple.”  He ended the lecture with 6 ways…. 6 things that we can do be fight anxiety.   For the past week, we have been going through the list.    Gratitude, Kindness, Stillness, Belonging and Movement.  Today,   last on the list is creativity.   Be Creative. 

Part of coping with anxiety is simply controlling our brains; putting into our brains  good and positive thoughts to keep us out of the anxiety rabbit hole.  A creative act like drawing or writing or knitting can help us focus our minds and have the same effects as meditation.  It will reduce stress, lower blood pressure but also kick off some helpful chemicals in the brain. 

We all know what it is like to be “in the zone”, that mental state where we are so immersed in an activity that we lose all sense of self and time.   It is also called “flow”.   Being in a state of “flow” through creative activity floods our brains with dopamine, the feel-good chemical.   We are motivated  and happy.   Creativity that stimulates the brain comes from  (according to the Harvard Medical Publishers) “a hungry mind, a thirsty mind”  HMP goes on to say that creativity can produce happiness, but be wary of contentment – It is the enemy of creativity. Contentment says “let’s just sit by the fire and drink cocoa.”  Creativity says..”lets do a puzzle or play a game.”   

Researchers say to get the most benefits from creativity, pursue something new, even in a familiar activity.  Knit a pattern you have not tried before.  Draw or paint in a different way.  Write a story instead of a journal or vice versa.   Challenge your brain and get creative. 

The apostle Paul says it so well. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.    Romans 12:2

Grace and Peace

Myra

Movement

Ok… just as we are learning to be still, we come to the next step to cope with anxiety and stress.  It’s Movement.   We know that exercise has lots of physical benefits but getting our bodies moving can also improve our brains.  Studies have shown that physical exercise at least twice a week will help prevent normal cognitive decline that we see as memory loss as we age.   We sleep longer and better when we exercise regularly.   

I find this interesting.  It doesn’t have to be aerobic exercise, meditative movement can also boost the brain.  From Harvard Medical Publishing:  “ changing your posture, breathing and rhythm can all change your brain and help reduce stress, depression and anxiety.”  

The Chopra Center reminds us of an added bonus:  a healthier Lymph.  The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system.   The Lymph system moves infection-fighting fluid though our bodies.   And here is where movement comes in.  “Unlike the circulatory or respiratory systems, the lymphatic system does not have a “pump.” Instead, it relies on your motion to circulate lymph fluid around the body. Each time you move large muscles of the body, you help pump lymphatic fluid through your body, keeping your systems circulating.” (Chopra Center). 

In our virus crazy world this sounds pretty important.  

As you have probably noted tonight and all week for that matter, I have been the “google’ queen, researching all kinds of sites on the benefits of these steps.   I always find something that surprises me.   For me, exercise is a “single” sport.  For many years, I loved to walk on a treadmill.  Weather permitting, I often walk alone outside.   I have never been one for exercise classes, but then this caught my eye.   Harvard Publishing reports a study showing that when we move in synchrony with someone else, it improves self-esteem.  The study looked at people who exercise or move alone and those who exercise with others. 

“Prior studies had shown that synchronizing your movement with others makes you like them more.. You also cooperate more with them and feel more charitable toward them. In fact, movement synchrony can make it easier to remember what people say and to recall  what they look like. This was the first study to show that it makes you feel better about yourself, too. That’s probably why the dance movement therapy can help depressed patients feel better.”

Once again, the power of community, of not only being with others, but “moving” with others. I’m thinking “Dance Party!” 

Grace and Peace,

Myra

Every Tuesday night a large group of ladies gathers at my church.   We study a book, we pray together, but mostly we laugh and cry and bond .  It is a safe space to articulate whatever is going on in our lives.  Deep friendships are made.   We “belong”.  It is not an exclusive group by any means,  new people join at every new session, and folks come in and out based on schedules and commitments.   Still, you don’t just come to the Tuesday night group, you belong to the Tuesday night group. 

Belonging is important and it is the next step from Matthew Swartz’s list of ways to cope with anxiety and stress.  Belonging is the opposite of loneness.   Step 4 – find a group and belong. 

Belonging, feeling accepted as a member of group is a basic human need.  When we feel like we belong, we feel valued.   In a place where we “belong” we can share our joys and our pain.  We can talk through the things that trouble us.  That in itself helps us cope and more often than not there is someone in the group who has been through what we are going through. Belonging lets us know that we are not alone.  There is comfort in that.    So what keeps us from finding a place to belong? Often we fear that we will not be accepted. Sometimes we are not accepting of those around us. We may find an activity or a troup where we have similiar interests but find ourselves judging others in the group. It is a defense mechanism. “It doesn’t matter if they like me or not; I don’t like them, first.” Many psychologists and therapists suggest that we just launch out and say yes to opportunities to be with others. Then we let go of judgements and focus on the activity and on the people.  Understand that the connecting is far more important than petty annoyances.  We may try a new group; maybe the group meets at a restaurant.  The restaurant is noisy and we don’t like the food.  We need to remember that the food and the place is not the goal.  Connecting and belonging is far more important.   

When we are in a space where we are critical of ourselves, we are often more critical of those around us.  We stay away from groups because we find fault with the people who gather.  My teacher and mentor, Mildred Thomas once told me that we should always “love people for who they are.”   There is great power in that statement.  We begin to see those around us as God sees them, seeing the good.  We come into a group, not looking for faults but looking for ways to encourage, ways to show love.   There is power in community; we find God in community.   From the Apostle Paul:  

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24, 25

Grace and Peace

Myra

#3  Be Kind

Yes, being kind actually helps you fight anxiety. Medical studies have shown that when we are kind, our body chemistry is altered and our mood improves.  Our blood pressure lowers.  We feel better about ourselves and the world around us.    Being kind has been shown to boost serotonin, a natural antidepressant in your brain.   Another interesting thing from these studies:  serotonin is also increased in the person receiving the act of kindness and in some cases in those who witness it.   (Talk about ripple effect.)  It doesn’t stop there.     Acts of kindness can also boost  oxytocin, known as the love hormone.  It is the hormone released when we make physical contact, but it is also linked to maternal feelings.  (yes, the drug name of this hormone is Pitocin… the drug given to women in labor to help speed things along. )  The natural hormone, oxytocin makes us feel better about ourselves and want to help others.  Medical studies have found that when oxytocin is released in our bodies we are more trusting, more generous and friendlier.   So far when we are kind we  have the release or boost of serotonin, oxytocin and there is still one more.  Dr. Waquih William IsHak, professor of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles says that “helping others is also believed to increase levels of and the endorphin-like chemical in the body called substance P, which relieves pain.”   IsHak says that the effects of kindness are proven scientifically.   “We all seek a path to happiness, practicing kindness toward others is one we know works. “    I remind you that I learned about these 6 steps from a presentation by Counselor and Therapist Matthew Swartz.   These are steps used in the treatment of anxiety. 

Oh and one more thing… it’s Biblical.   Jesus tells us that the two most important commandments are to love God and love one another.   The apostle Paul goes straight for kindness in Ephesians 4:32.   “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” 

On our Lenten journey to live UnAfraid, we know that part of that is getting anxiety and stress under control.  

Step one:  Wake up and list at least 5 things for which you are grateful. Give your first thoughts to God and be grateful. 

Step two:  Be still.   Find 5-10 minutes every day to be still and quiet your mind. 

Step three:  Be kind.   Be intentional about kindness to those around you. 

Step four… well that’s tomorrow

Grace and Peace,

Myra

P.S.  I’d love to hear about some of your acts of kindness…

Lenten Blog Day Three 6 Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Stress

Stillness: Step #2 in coping with anxiety and stress (from therapist Matthew Swartz presentation on Anxeity), If we are going to get a handle on anxiety and stress, we must first get control of our brains.   Yesterday we talked about the importance of gratitude; starting the day in a mindset of being grateful.  Today we are learning to be still. 2 in coping with anxiety and stress is Stillness. 

The Yogi’s and the meditation gurus of the world have been on to something for a long time; the benefits of being “still”.    Sitting in silence is a way to bring calm to our bodies and our minds.  The medical community confirms that sitting in silence can lower blood pressure,  boost the body’s immune system, promote good hormone regulation and help prevent plaque formation in arteries.   Wow… it is amazing what happens when we slow our bodies down, just for a few minutes each day. ( Matthew Swartz recommends 10-15 mintues a day)   A study in 2013 found that in two hours of silence, new cells were created in the area of the brain linked to learning, remembering and emotions.   Ok.. two hours is pretty hard to do, but memory, learning and emotional control are also pretty important.    Another study found that just a few minutes of stillness and silence could decrease stress by lowering blood cortisol levels and adrenaline. 

There are also psychological benefits.   When you learn not to engage in thoughts that come into your mind you learn the practice of letting go of thoughts that cause anxiety and stress.  To be in a state of stillness,  is to quiet all of the voices inside our heads, voices pulling us one way or another.  When we do that, we can be present in the moment and feel the intuition of our true selves kicking in.  

Is it any wonder that the Psalmist tells us to “Be still and know God.”   Psalm 45:10  

It’s another reason that we need to find “stillness”.   In the quiet, with our minds at rest, we can connect with God.   It is a way that we can listen to God.   I believe that the intuition we start to know, that connection with our true selves is a connection with God.

So how do we do this?  First, we find time.  No, we make the time.   If we truly want to combat anxiety and stress, we need to be intentional about gaining control of our minds and bodies.    Gratitude, then stillness.   Be thankful, and be still and silent. 

Step 3 tomorrow….

Grace and Peace,

Myra