October 20, 2021

Children and Voice

by Rod Smith

Teaching and encouraging children to speak up and to speak out and to voice their likes, dislikes and opinions, and to do so from a young age, will make a remarkable difference to a young life. Please, let the days when children were “seen and not heard” be gone.

Of course, if it is you, the parents who are encouraging a child to speak up, the child will also do so with you. This is something you want. It may not always feel comfortable or convenient but you are teaching an amazing and wonderful life skill to be used for the long haul. Learning to speak up and to speak out, to “self-advocate,” is a good thing for many reasons.

If your child can speak up to you, resist you, discuss matters with you, debate with you, he or she will be able to do so with anyone and will go through life unintimidated. Surely, you, the parents, want this? Helping a child find his or her voice – the ability to articulate wants, thoughts, what he or she sees, feels, and what he or she doesn’t want, think, sees, or feels is at least as important as being able to read, write and count.

It’s a gift of pure gold.

October 7, 2021

Fears

by Rod Smith

When men and women allow another to come close and then have expressed their deepest thoughts, I have discovered a few common fears. I have identified them within myself and in extended moments of vulnerability I shared with others:

The fear of exposure, of being discovered as a fraud, fake, failure who has been able to masquerade successes. The fear of abandonment, of discovering no one stayed or remained faithful to friendships, to the continued enjoyment of familial connections, formal and informal. The fear of aloneness, discovering there is no-one in your circle, your corner, there is no-one on your team. The fear of total dependence, discovering you are in the hands of strangers, helpers who talk loudly, speak in commands; regard you as needy flesh, a man or woman without a story, without a rich history. The fear of unfinished business, the inability or lack of opportunity to find completion, to close the circle, to express regrets, to ask for forgiveness; to be surrounded by people for whom being right, being correct trumps being reconconcialtory or expressing mercy.

You and I, dear reader, can be the antidote to those who harbor such fears, and offer mercy and kindness in places where there sometimes appears to be an absence of both.

October 6, 2021

Let words lead you…..

by Rod Smith

When writing about anxiety (yesterday) I suggested taking time to “write yourself” to the source of your anxieties, to use paper and pencil to “deliver” you to its origins. The free flow of words that may lead you inward, offer insight into your fragility, shed light on your amazing strengths, uncover your undermining uncertainties.

Notice, there’s no technology involved. No computer, no phone. I’m asking you to dive inward into yourself, not into the web. I know this is countercultural for those who are rushing through life, seeking the next experience, chasing “likes.” It’s also counter-cultural for those who believe the solution is imported, downloaded, rather than latent, already within. Searching for something “out there” can exacerbate the very anxiety you seek to lessen and harness.

It takes time to build upon the words and make them into sentences, then paragraphs that will lead you to important crossroads of your history. Go there. It’ll be tough. Painful. But, it may also be freeing. You don’t have to be a writer to do this. Just put one word in front of the other until you have a sentence, then sentences and paragraphs which will deliver you to the core of your being, a beautiful place, I bet, if you get yourself out of the way, let the words take you where they know they need to go.

October 5, 2021

Dealing (where you can) with anxiety

by Rod Smith

Chronic anxiety, the persistent form that cripples day-to-day functioning and is not “pinnable” on a specific situation, requires professional help. Seek it out. That said, there are a few simple  – I did not say easy – strategies to combat distressing levels of anxiety as described in yesterday’s column. 

  • Do a little personal searching. I think of it as an “internal google” search. Take time aside and with pencil and paper in hand, ask and answer the questions: “Where is this worrying coming from?  When did it begin? If it was a river, where is its source?” Fill pages with the thoughts that follow. There is no quick fix to lurking anxieties. Writing them down and answering the questions will expose their identity and potentially loosen their hold.
  • Write down the cut-offs in your life. Who in your family is estranged from you and what are the reasons as you see them? This is not a call to judgement. Look not for whom is to blame. Write down the cut-offs and the logic or lack of logic behind the cut-offs and some of the anxiety you feel is likely to loosen and lessen. We are designed to be in groups, packs which we call families. When the pack is disturbed the individual is too.
October 4, 2021

Anxiety

by Rod Smith

There are several expressions of anxiety and some which I am sure you will recognize. 

Your bank app is showing a depleting balance. Pay day is a stretch away. You feel a sweep of worry run through you. Your mind hovers over a few possibilities. You recall another source of income. Anxious feelings dissipate. 

This situational anxiety is “normal.”

You haven’t heard from your adult daughter for a few days. She usually is in constant contact. She texts. She calls. You know things are not going well for her at work. There are a few unusual pressures on her marriage even though she has not told you or shared any details. 

Worrying about her is starting to get in your way. You can’t think about too much without thoughts of her well being wanting to invade your thoughts. You text her. She calls you back. Everything seems fine. This anxiety is born of familial connection. 

Your actions have taken care of it. You can get back to your life. 

Some people are worried for no apparent reason. It is like an anchor around the heart. Needs are met. They have enough. But anxiety, from an unidentifiable source, is crippling.

This is chronic anxiety.

This requires professional help.

September 28, 2021

The unexpected

by Rod Smith

When the unexpected occurs, things you’d prefer to avoid; self-, other-, or life-inflicted, take a minute or an hour or a month if necessary to:

  • Remind yourself that life itself has spent a lifetime preparing you for this. You’ve run versions of this track before. You have what it takes. You are probably stronger, more resilient than you may feel most of the time. No one is strong all the time. It’s rare to be weak all the time. Courage ebbs and flows.
  • You’ve had a lot of practice facing adversity and all of the opportunities were rehearsals for the next one. You’re more skilled, self-aware, experienced than you’ve ever been. A little distance, a lot of patience, a load of listening, a truckload of grace for yourself and others will get you through this. Take time to replenish supplies of goodness and grace.
  • You’re not who you were, you’re not who you will be, you will emerge with new learnings, renewed, replenished grace. Give yourself room to receive divine grace and you’ll be unrecognizable to others and yourself. Everything can be faced without returning evil for evil, wishing ill on another, and without carrying a sense of entitlement or a desire for revenge. Peace is possible, no matter what or who you face.
September 27, 2021

21 years

by Rod Smith

I know it’s hard to believe but in March 2022 I will have been published each weekday in your newspaper for 21 years. To date I have written 7500 columns for The Mercury. There have been a handful of times when I have been traveling or out of WiFi range that very kind editors have re-published a column but, in the main, you have become part of my daily routine and I have loved it.

I especially appreciate readers who have followed my work from the beginning. Some readers have created scrapbooks of my columns and, while I am flattered, you indeed have more of my work collected than I do. The absolute truth is that this daily exercise in writing about relationships, mental health, emotional wellness has kept me growing (hopefully) and relatively sane (hopefully).

I know I am repeating an old theme but this column may indeed have helped you or inspired you but I am my first reader. The issues I write about are the ones I am seeing face-to-face in clients and meeting face-to-face within my own journey. Thank you for your faithfulness.

I am planning (tentatively, cautiously) a trip to KZN in March, 2022. Let’s get to scheduling.

September 26, 2021

An invitation

by Rod Smith

An invitation to a deeper life

Let’s throw off our deliberate self-assuredness, our certainty and pride and embrace a little ambiguity. Let’s cast aside pride, the apparent lack of need to question our own fallibility, striding through life as if we alone are infallible. Our brazenness, hardness of heart, determination to pursue wealth, are getting in our way and we appear to be none the wiser about what it is doing to the core of who and what we are. 

Do you, do I, not know there are no self-made men and women? We are a product of magnificent grace no matter who you are, no matter who I am, no matter what our roots. Yet, there are days we live as if we could not possibly be wrong, or need to learn anything, or could benefit from evaluating something from a new or different angle. 

Let’s not fail to honor others and therefore live as if it ourselves alone who deserve all honor. Let’s not fail to listen to others and therefore live as if we ourselves are the only ones with something to say. Let’s not fail to observe and therefore live as if we have seen it all and stride as if the world and others have little or nothing to teach or to show us. 

September 22, 2021

Two sides?

by Rod Smith

You will hear “there are two sides to every story” when people face interpersonal conflicts. I would like to suggest that there are usually about 7 sides – maybe more – and at least three or four layers to every story. People and relationships and people in relationships are simply not that simple. We are not jigsaw pieces in search of our perfect fit place in a puzzle.

Human entanglements are complex. Each of us brings to every relationship a complex history, a network of failures and successes, a compendium of both declared and undeclared, known and unknown dreams and expectations. We have needs and drives and hopes of which we ourselves may be unaware.

“I have found my soul-mate,” or “finally I have what I want in a relationship” are wonderful declarations. We celebrate when they occur. When such meetings occur and flourish there’s a lot more at play than pretty eyes or instant compatibility or his or her stability. How we get entangled, become involved, respond to our attractions, commit to friendships, give our word, enter into levels of deeper and deeper intimacy is as complex as it is exciting and invigorating. How we try to get untangled or unattached when relationships derail is just as complex and extraordinarily painful and much more a two-sided story.

September 20, 2021

New arrangements

by Rod Smith

It’s taking me a little time to get used to the idea that both my sons are now fully employed and earning their own money. 

I love it. 

For years I have told them they can live with me but I will not allow them to live off me and it seems, thus far at least, that trying to live off me will not be a problem.

I’m just not used to this new arrangement. 

This is the first time in about 20 years I have not had to rush out and get school supplies for a project or go to the school to sign some form one of them forgot in his locker. It’s the first time in years I am not trying to sell team T-shirts to raise funds for soccer or basketball travel costs. 

I could go on and on. 

The real transition is deeper. It’s deeper than escaping the repetitive tasks of running my own life and the lives of two growing boys. It is the mutual realization that we are now fellow adults sharing life and I just happen to also be their dad. I intentionally hold back on offering guidance, I encourage them to save as much money as possible, and there are whole volumes of their lives I steer clear of. 

It works.

Mostly.