Our Prized (Dysfunctional) Alone Time

Rest is a good thing. Rest is necessary and it makes you better in every endeavor. It seems like rest should be an easy thing to do, but as we’ve written in a previous blog, resting can be challenging.

If you’re introverted, which is very common for soul care workers to be, healthy alone time can recharge your spent energy and lead to more and better productivity. But alone time can easily derail into unhelpful behaviors that not only decrease energy but actually harm us and those around us.

Here are four common ways alone time can become dysfunctional:

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1) Overly Isolated

Alone time is what it sounds like: being alone. But being alone can become over-isolation which is characterized by active avoidance of others and anger when alone time is interrupted. Over isolation is associated with an increase in the likelihood of experiencing depression. You don’t need to erase solitary rest from your life, but you do need to be aware that over isolation can be a slippery trap for introverts.

What does it look like for you to break up your alone time with seeing one or two safe and non-draining people?

2) Overly Entertained

There is no shortage of entertainment at our fingertips at all hours of the day. While movies, TV shows, videogames, and books can all be great diversions in moderation, we can easily become too amused. The word amusement (a-muse) literally means “no thinking.” Sacrificing our thought life in the pursuit of rest is a dangerous proposition.

How can you make a plan to avoid binging on entertainment during rest times?

3) Too Reliant on Alcohol

Enjoying a good glass of beer, whiskey or wine can be a truly delightful thing. Alcohol is a depressant by nature, and like the amusement of entertainment, many in ministry use it to slow down their mind after a long day or week. This can be a dangerous road to walk down because of the extremely addictive and physically damaging nature of booze.

What accountability do you have in your life in regards to using alcohol to help you rest?

4) Sleep Deprived

Sleep is a blessed thing, so much so that the Psalmist says that God: “... gives to his beloved sleep.” Staying up late for alone time makes sense if that is the only alone time you can get. But the cost of losing any of the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep adults need a night can be damaging to mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation can mean a loss in memory recall, dysregulated hormone levels, mood imbalance and 4x increase of risk of stroke.

Do you need to prioritize 7-8 hours of sleep in order to rest well?

Over-Isolation, over-entertainment, reliance on alcohol and lack of sleep are four common ways that soul care workers wreck their own precious rest. It is a trap of pride to think that we know exactly how we should or shouldn’t rest. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath after all, we’re not. After a long week of draining work we can feel justified to unwind however we want. But like all traps of pride, unhealthy behaviors look pleasing at first but only lead to harm. In the work of soul care, this is pivotal to think and pray through so that you can get the rest you need and continue to serve effectively those in your care.

Are you getting enough rest and where do you think that you need to adjust things so that your rest is healthier?

Guest Blog: Fire Your Therapist

Michael Behmer is a 20 year veteran of the mental health field. He remains a dynamic leader in a profession that is rife with old ideas and entrepreneurial stagnation. What does it take to keep pushing the boundaries in the soul care profession? Head over to the Tyler Hamilton Training blog to find out.

The Monday After Sunday



We would love to hear from you on what topics you'd appreciate reading about!

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The Enneagram: A Primer pt. 1

This is the first part in a three part series on The Enneagram. In this first section we will look at what this personality test is and why we at the Monday After Sunday Team utilize it in our therapeutic practices at Aspen Christian Counseling. In the coming weeks this series will also look at whether or not biblical theology meshes with the theory of personality that the Enneagram espouses, if Christians should trust the Enneagram and also if there are practical, therapeutic and ministerial applications to this personality test.

As a culture, we love to take personality tests. It makes sense why we enjoy analyzing ourselves in this way: we all live in the age of the individual and there are fewer inherent communal and societal signposts that - in history past - helped people understand who they were as people and what their life-purpose was. There are lots of other reasons people like to take personality tests: we usually like talking about ourselves, we want to know if we are normal or not, we like to know where we fit in with those around us and we also like to “make official” the hunches we have about ourselves.

Most modern personality tests serve a limited but helpful purpose of pulling out and clarifying truths that may be challenging for individuals to identify in themselves. This service can be constructive but there is an obvious limiting floor to the helpfulness of navel-gazing. Are there any personality tests that can possibly help us transcend the individual or aide us on our spiritual journey? The Enneagram makes a strong case for being just that.

The Enneagram is a dynamic personality inventory that utilizes nine archetypal models of human temperament. Unlike modern, western personality tests like the Myers-BriggsCliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder), and The Big Five, the Enneagram does not primarily have origins that are contemporarily western. Also, unlike modern personality tests the Enneagram is not solely based around the positive, outward attributes of our personality. Many people find the Enneagram challenging to grapple with as fitting somewhere within its nine personality means there are inherently negative, harmful and futile aspects to who they are and how they interact with the world around them. But, if an individual can stomach the challenge of seeing themselves with clear eyes, the Enneagram can assist in the discovery of insights on personality, addictions, vocation, relationship dynamics and spiritual direction.

The ancient origins of the Enneagram are debated, but most agree that the nine personalities are centered around the idea of the “seven deadly sins”. Most also agree that the Bolivian scholar Oscar Ichazo helped make the Enneagram a modern phenomenon when he introduced it to Franciscan monks and also modern American and European psychologists in the 1960 and 70s.

The nine personality types of Enneagram are based on nine core roles, virtues and vices. Understanding which role that best fits a person comes with the painful discovery that they are deeply imperfect and in need of help to escape our natural “traps” that keep us from living life abundantly.

Below are the 9 types as described by the Center for Action and Contemplation and their corresponding “role names,” vices, virtues, basic desires and corresponding truth that the type needs to lean into to grow:

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The Enneagram is a helpful tool in the journey to understand ourselves and how we interact with the world around us but it is by no means meant to be utilized as the sole source of truth in an individual's - especially a Christian’s - life. The Enneagram is not inspired truth from God, but a human creation. And human creations can always be weaponized in the great spiritual battle that is occurring invisibly all around us. But, human-made tools, if utilized under the authority of Scripture and the power of the gospel can indeed aid in the sanctification of the individual and the edification of the Church.

In the next part of this series focusing on the Enneagram we will look how this personality test can intertwine with the gospel narrative of the Bible and greatly assist the Christian in the work of loving God and people better and better throughout their life.

The Meditating Pastor pt. 2

In the first part of this series we defined meditation as: "The ability, with intention, to pause and focus calmly on one task at a time for an extended length of time.”

In this, the second of our of three part “The Meditating Pastor” series we want to compare the modern idea of “mindful meditation” with the ancient practice of meditation mentioned in the Bible. What the differences between these similarly named practices?

word search of the English Standard Version of the Bible finds 14 instances of the word  “meditate” with the vast majority of mentions occurring in the Psalms. Most of the instances of the word meditate - in the original languages - are written to describe the context in which the author relates to the promises of God in a purposeful, musing, and sometimes even a complaining manner. The Bible poses both singular and dialogical possibilities to the process of meditation. Dialogical in this context meaning thinking/talking to oneself or in prayer to God. A wonderful example of chewing over a text can be seen in John Piper’s “Look at the Book” video series found here.

In his seminal classic “Knowing God,” theologian J.I. Packer defines meditation, in part as:

“...often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace.”

Pastor and author Eugene Peterson in his wonderful volume on biblical reading, “Eat this Book”  describes a Hebrew word, hagah, which is found in Isaiah 31:4 describing a lion’s growling over its prey. Peterson discovered that the Hebrew word hagah is oddly enough is found in other verses describing meditation. While watching his dog chew on a bone Peterson describes a having spark of insight about what the Bible really is getting at when talking about meditation:

“Hagah is a word that our Hebrew ancestors used frequently for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls. But ‘meditate’ is far too tame a word for what is being signified. ‘Meditate’ seems more suited to what I do in a quiet chapel on my knees with a candle burning on the altar. Or to what my wife does while sitting in a rose garden with the Bible open in her lap. But when Isaiah's lion and my dog meditated they chewed and swallowed, using teeth and tongue, stomach and intestines: Isaiah's lion meditating his goat (if that's what it was); my dog meditating his bone.”

Mindfulness has a lot of press right now. So, what is it? A good, simple definition of mindfulness is:

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Mindful meditation is an intentional process that only requires three simple step, described by ABC journalist and author of “10% Happier,” Dan Harris:

“One, sit down with your spine straight and close your eyes. Second, try to notice where the feeling of your breath is most prominent, and try to focus on what it feels like every time it comes in and goes out. And the third step is the key. Your mind is going to start wandering like crazy. Every time that happens, every time you catch your mind wandering, forgive yourself and bring your attention back to the breath. That moment is the bicep curl for the brain.“

That last statement is the key of it all. Mindful Meditation’s great benefit is in its ability to strengthen weakness in the mind. The American Psychological Association states: “Researchers theorize that mindfulness meditation promotes metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination via disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities and enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory. These cognitive gains, in turn, contribute to effective emotion-regulation strategies.” The other benefits of mindfulness include: reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, increased focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility and increased relational satisfaction.

As we’ve seen, Biblical Meditation is like sitting down to chew on and digest the Word of God. Biblical Meditation is the practice of attempting to relate with a text that is alive and accepting its invitation to enjoy it and the God who wrote it. Stereotypes of biblical devotion often imagine sterile, quiet and even boring reading sessions but true meditation on the Word of God seems to be more like enjoying a favorite meal with best friends.

Mindful Meditation is exercise for your brain. Unlike any physical workout, mindfulness only involves sitting still, focusing on deep breathing, and bringing the mind back to breath-focus when it inevitably wanders off to the million other thoughts it wants to have. Another simple definition is: “Mindfulness is the ability to know what’s happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it.” Stereotypes of mindful meditation seem to picture the practice as a spiritual emptying when in fact - if practiced with enough frequency - it fortifies the mind in order that we can more enjoy better things like biblical devotion for longer.

Even though both share the similarities of stillness, focus and intentionality, Mindful Meditation and Biblical Meditation are not the same thing. The two practices share the english word “meditation” but are different in essential aim. Difference in aim, though, does not negate a potentially powerful complementary nature that Mindful Meditation brain training and Biblical devotion can share.

Next time we want to answer the questions: How can mindful meditation be leveraged by the Christian as a tool to strengthen mental and emotional deficit? Can mindfulness help the Christian to love God and people more?

Look for the third and final part of this series next week to learn about the devotional potential of synthesizing mindful and biblical meditation in your life.

Let Us Buy You A Coffee

We love to share coffee, beer, chips and salsa, ice cream, BBQ, hot tea or ice water because relationships are what matter the most. Sitting across a table at a cafe or shoulder-to-shoulder at a bar opens a space where we can create meaningful connections that change us. We want to do that with you.

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Michael Behmer

Handling the traumatic events in the lives of the folks you work with doesn't need to be the test of your capability as a shepherd of people. Grab a coffee with Michael Behmer this week to talk about the areas of your work where you could use support from our team.

(Topics of discussion: trauma, grief, loss, compassion fatigue, team burnout)

 

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Danelle Rottner

Even the most challenging life circumstances can be points of incredible transformation and redemption. As clinical lead at Aspen Christian Counseling and one of the most experienced gospel-centered counselors in the Front Range, Danelle Rottner can speak into how life's hardest times can be the most profound.

(Points of discussion: talk-therapy, gospel-centered psychotherapy, ministry team dynamics, trauma)

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Jeremy Hamann

 

Understanding both our image-bearing nature and the formative effects of our upbringing in a fallen world is enabled by the Enneagram personality profile. Grab a coffee with Jeremy Hamann this week to talk about the Enneagram.

(Topics of discussion: enneagram, personality, understanding self and God, the Gospel and therapy.)

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Betsy Carr

 

With insight from brain science and personality profiling, Betsy Carr, Aspen's Neurofeedback Training Coordinator, can help you and your people understand their relationships and conflicts with brand new eyes!

(Topics of discussion: brain health, therapy diagnostics, conflict assessment and Neurofeedback treatment)

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John Vandegrift

Those who experience addiction do not need to be without hope. As a CAC1, John has the training and experience to support anyone who desires to be free from addiction.

(Topics of discussion: addiction, recovery, brain training, alternatives to talk therapy.)

Emotionally Transmitted Disease

The work of soul care can be incredibly rewarding. It can be so rewarding that it often comes with an effect called “helper high.” It feels good to try and make people feel good, especially when the results are positive.

People work is not always rewarding. If you have done soul care for any length of time you know that it is slow work that necessitates wading into people’s deepest, darkest emotional and relational swamps. Whether we know it or not (or like it or not)  emotions rub off on us and affect us. Over time, those in helper-type professions can become inundated with “emotional contagion” and become negatively affected.

A Yale University study defines emotional contagion as "a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.”

Emotional infection can be a 1 to 1 situation where the mood of a person you are interacting with caused you to begin to feel that feeling. Humans in their complexity can also experience emotional contagion at even second and third hand interactions. Hearing a story of how someone reacted or feeling pressure by a person or group to feel a certain way that they deem as appropriate can cause you to experience certain emotions.

Like the flu or a cold, being infected by emotional contagion comes with certain signs and symptoms. And like a cold, emotional contagion also comes with certain remedies.

SIGNS YOU MAY BE AFFECTED BY EMOTIONAL CONTAGION:

  • Do you feel more anxious after working with an anxious person, more depressed after working with a depressed person? This subconscious mimicking is a strong sign of emotional contagion.
  • Do you overall have less energy and drive to do the work of soul care than you normally do or you have in the past?
  • Do you avoid intimacy in your personal life because you are too tired or overwhelmed?

REMEDIES FOR THE EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL CONTAGION:

  • Rituals of resetting - immediately after doing intense soul care with an individual or group develop and practice a sort of “mental hand-washing” that can help you realize and contain the work rather than carrying it with you. This could include prayer, self-talk, brain quieting, getting up and walking the halls, closing your eyes and breathing, etc…
  • Know your emotional vocab - the ability to have the correct words to attach to the things you may be feeling seems like a small thing but it can be a massive help. Collections like this one may be helpful in getting more specific with what you are feeling.
  • Launch a counter-attack - feelings of calm and serenity are potent emotions that can counter many feelings associated with negative emotional contagion. The practice of mindful meditation and processing with the purpose of letting go of another’s pain can help greatly in strengthening emotional antibodies.

The Meditating Pastor: Part 1

We all have that “inner narrator” in our head that starts blabbing the second we wake up to the minute we go to bed. Your inner narrator may even, as you read this, be going on about how you need to be doing this and that and not reading a blog post about meditation, because meditation is a bunch of hoo-ha.

Now, when we talk about an inner narrator, we are not talking about “hearing voices,” we mean simply that boring commentator that keeps a running, judgmental monologue going in your head from sun up to sundown. For most of us that voice is a total jerk who seems to want only our discouragement, discontentment, and distraction. Are we destined to just deal with this surly pontificator for entire life? We don’t think so and we think meditation may be a key in wrangling this unhelpful copilot.

Meditation exists to help strengthen the part of the mind that keeps that voice from commanding too much mental real estate, thus freeing you to be happier, more focused and even allowing you spend more time loving God and people uninterrupted.

  • WHAT IS MEDITATION?

  • ARE THERE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BIBLICAL MEDITATION AND OTHER FORMS OF MEDITATION?

  • IF THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BIBLICAL MEDITATION AND OTHER FORMS?

  • IS THERE ANY PRACTICAL OR EVEN SPIRITUAL BENEFIT OF “NON-BIBLICAL” MEDITATION TO THE CHRISTIAN?

Over the next three weeks we want to be able to answer these questions towards the goal of making you the most informed you can be about the topic of meditation. This week we simply want to define what the practice is.

We will be the first to admit: the idea of meditation has a lot of strange and conflicting connotations surrounding it. At once images of cross-legged, floating gurus who have reached a mystical level of enlightenment enter into our minds. Also for those who have spent any time reading their Bible, we recognize that its authors filled the Scriptures with mentions of the practice of meditation. So, which is which? Are they the same thing? First we need to define what meditation it:

"THE ABILITY, WITH INTENTION, TO PAUSE AND FOCUS CALMLY ON ONE TASK AT A TIME FOR AN EXTENDED LENGTH OF TIME.”

This practice can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for five minutes and as complex as attempting to calm the each muscle group in your body over a time frame like 30 minutes or an hour.

The skill of calmly focusing without giving into distraction for even a very short amount of time is challenging to many. Some good news is that this inability is normal. A lack of this skill is typical as the normative and encouraged stance when living life and working in our culture is to be able to multitask and jump from thing to thing without pause. If you’ve ever used email communication as key part of your job you know how enticing and easy it is to lose focus on the task at hand and to look at who just emailed you.

Now, meditation is not a cure-all. Some people and groups will talk about meditation like it is a miracle-working practice that heal everything from extreme mental pathology to cancer. A healthy level of skepticism is important here as the old maxim has it: “A cure-all cures nothing.”

Now that we have simply define the practice of meditation we will move on next week comparing the practice to the biblical idea of meditation and see if the two can co-exist or even complement each other.