Archive for ‘Difficult Relationships’

November 30, 2021

Anxiety

by Rod Smith

Anxious times call us to non-anxious living. 

You are going to tell me that’s easier said than done.

I have to agree with you. It is nonetheless true.

Anxious reacting to anxious times will escalate anxiety, ratcheting things to greater and greater degrees of unreasonableness. Force will meet greater force, worry stirs more worry, and before you know it things get way out of hand and out of control.

“The soft answer turns away wrath,” says the writer of the book of Proverbs.

“Anxiety is more contagious than the common cold,” declares Ed Friedman in his life-changing book “Failure of Nerve.”

If anxiety doesn’t stop with you it will sweep you up and take you with it.

You (and I) do not have to be bowled over by our own or the anxiety of those around us.

Be slow. Take it easy. Be considerate – think things through, pace yourself, monitor your levels of anxiety. Bring it down through having an eye for gratitude and the voice – the soft answer – to express it.

Expressing thanks is no trick. 

Expressing thanks for who you are, what you have, who you have in your life will center you and highlight the things of greater importance than trying to outrun the waves of anxiety breaking all around.

November 29, 2021

Pardon me, this may be for you!

by Rod Smith

You are probably stronger than you think you are, more determined than you may appear to be, and more stubborn than you like to believe you are. 

True? Good. We agree on something.

You are going to make it. You are going to make it through these tough and uncertain times. You have been in tough circumstances before and you did it then and so you have the tools to get through this crisis this time.

People may give up on you but you will not give up on yourself. You may even offer the impression that you are giving up on yourself but you are not. I know what you are doing. You are circling around, taking in information, weighing things, you are listing pros and cons, counting costs, getting your ducks in a row.

I know you. I have met you before. I confess, I have met you within me. We are like old friends.

People have made the horrible error of underestimating you – and me.

Watch out. Here she comes, here he comes. Once the plan is in place and the proverbial trigger is pulled you will unleash more grace and kindness than you ever thought possible and you, and all those whom you love, will be stronger for it.

November 22, 2021

Paradox

by Rod Smith

There are paradoxes I believe we must embrace to be reasonable humans and somewhat successful at our relationships and careers.

Here is one that is very close to my heart and experience.   

I am going to use “you” for ease. I am fully aware the content also applies to me. 

You are unique in all the world, a veritable treasure. You are special. You really are one of a kind. There is no one in the world quite like you.  

Enjoy it. Allow yourself to bring your tailored, unusual gifts to the world.

You are not that different from other people or special. 

Get involved in the joy and the grind of daily life in the same manner required of all of us, rich, poor, educated, uneducated. Do your share. You are not “above” anything required of all humans so clean your own shoes, take out your own trash, do your own laundry. I don’t care who you are, where you live, how rich or privileged you are. 

Doing these things is good for you and those who love you.  

Allow these truths to penetrate your awareness and change your behavior. 

Don’t do it for effect or to make a point or for recognition – but simply because embodying both makes us better people.

November 16, 2021

Shame

by Rod Smith

Shame is a powerful, debilitating force. While I am not sure it is in itself an emotion, it certainly taints and twists all of them and can feel as strong and propelling as any powerful emotion. Shame can be like a baptism, when “bad” is not something you have done but something you have become. It is so deeply imbibed that shameful is what you are. It is not that something you’ve done is rotten, you are rotten.

And so guilt, remorse, regret and self-rejection are not the lens through which a person may see life and may therefore on occasion wear a different pair of glasses. It is that guilt, remorse, regret and self-rejection are in the bloodstream, the thought-stream, forming the backdrop of all awareness, offering self-convincing and self-prophetic and self-fulfilling evidence of who the person believes him or herself to be.

Observers, acquaintances may wonder why such a person is difficult to love. Friends, colleagues may wonder why some people are suspicious of all love, all kindness. Shame is a shield. Shame is a sword. No matter how sophisticated or educated a person may be it may be shame doing its twisted job of “protection.”

Listen more than you speak. He or she trapped in shame may just let you in.

November 14, 2021

Wedding thoughts

by Rod Smith

A wedding is a confluence of tribes, a melding of lives, a meeting of minds. It’s the healing of wounds, the dressing of scars in absolute beauty. It’s a convergence of histories, some shared, some not.

It’s binding, a bonding more powerful than reason, escaping reason. It’s a covering; it’s an uncovering. It’s hide and seek – for a while – until hide and seek is no longer necessary. Because, wherever you hide you find love, wherever you seek you find it again. You find love that is holy and grounded, deliberate and determined.

A wedding is a miracle in itself and the continuation of an unfolding miracle. It is a foundation for a small and intimate cottage for two in the woods at the end of a long a winding driveway, forests on both sides, while it is also the driving of pylons into the earth for a skyscraper so high in a city so vast it’s ends, height and widths, are beyond the capacity of the couple to see.

It is war, for love. It’s peace, for healing, it’s together, for celebration, and apart for contemplation. It’s giving, giving, giving to the point that you are unaware of just how much you are receiving and getting and gaining. A wedding is more than a wedding, It is an act of making history.

November 9, 2021

Serendipitous joy

by Rod Smith

I love the way life on occasions taps me on the shoulder with moments of serendipitous joy.

Yesterday I was editing pages of a book about my childrens’ early days, reflecting on their lives as newborns, and thinking about how small they were at birth and how fragile everything seemed. 

Then a message popped up on my computer screen. 

“Do you have accommodation – three nights – for a woman traveling through your city?” 

“Here for adoption,” the caption included.

I checked the calendar and responded. 

“Thank you. Be there in an hour.” 

I had no idea who I would meet and what the circumstances would be when an out-of-state vehicle pulled up into the reserved parking space for our hospitality house.

I greeted my guest and added, “The adoption part of your message confused me.” 

She smiled, opened the side door of a vehicle and showed me her baby born four days ago. 

“We’re new parents, I have to wait for some paperwork to be completed before I can cross state lines with our daughter. I’m so glad your place is open for these few days.”

Hauling a portable crib not only took me back a few years, it gave me an enormous boost of encouragement. 

Encouragement I really needed.

November 4, 2021

Allow grief to do its good and tough work

by Rod Smith

TheAfterSermon – week 10:

Grief is a crazy companion, sometimes comforting, even refreshing.

Then, it will rip you apart.

When preoccupied, it can go away briefly, go into hiding and you can live, ever so briefly, as if you have never lost anyone or anything.

Then, out of nowhere, it will hit like a ton of bricks, playing its twisted game of hide-and-seek.

Believe it or not, grief has your best interests at heart.

It will do its work to revive yours, as battered and broken as your heart may be.

Let grief do its work as best you are able: its painful, beautiful, inner work. Allow it free-range. Full access. As it does its slow, deliberate, detailed work, you will continue to become even more beautiful than you already are.

That’s what it does: it turns hurting people into human agents of incredible understanding and grace – if you let it.

Your heart may be broken.

Your life may feel hopeless, but grief will ultimately deliver you to a hopeful destination and hope and courage will be yours again.

If you let it.

Try to get out of grief’s way. Allow silence. Allow yourself stop-and-think time. Allow yourself to remember. Play the music that may be painful to hear. Go to the places you are avoiding. Look at pictures, play the saved voicemails.

Watch the home movies.

Do these things when you are ready to do them.

You will know better than anyone when you are ready.

You may fall apart at first when you venture into the things you have been avoiding, but it is all part of getting ready to fall together.

Allow yourself speak-to-a-trusted-friend time.

Cry, write, read. Be angry if necessary.

Grief labors long over its ever-incomplete healing work.

Accommodation is possible. A full life is possible. But, keep in mind, the vacuum left by some loss is never filled, some losses are beyond healing.

It is natural to want to rush grief and to want all pain to be gone.

Who cannot want pain to be gone?

But, it is a crazy and unruly companion.

Grief breaks out at the most unexpected times.

Rushing grief, hurrying its work, will lodge pain even deeper into the soul only to later manifest as some unwanted reaction or unfamiliar emotion.

No matter how recent or distant your loss, welcome the tears.

Let grief’s first agents, first responders, flow.

“Time heals,” clangs the cliche.

Time doesn’t heal, not usually, not by itself. Time is time.

Time passed is not grief diminished.

There are some losses that are never “healed.”

Some never find “closure.”

This does not mean survivors cannot live full, productive, beautiful lives.

Warmth, two listening ears, and hot cups of tea accompanied by face-to-face-no-phones hours may be the most powerful gifts a person can offer one who has suffered.

It is ridiculous to approach a grieving person with a step-by-step generic packaged get-over-your-grief formula.

“What shall I do with this grief?” she asked, having lost so much, one thing on top of another, more than enough loss for many in a lifetime.

You shall sit with it.

Embrace it.

“What shall I do with the pain, the gaping hole in my chest, a wound in my soul, my very being?” he asks after losing his life-partner.

As difficult as that may sound, you will let it do its work.

You will go into survival-mode. Operate on automatic.

Auto-pilot.

Then, you will arrange your life around it, at least for a while.

“But, I do not want this, the anguish, this disorientation.”

Nobody does.

It is always an uninvited guest.

Crazy, unruly grief will do its work and you will emerge as gold.

You will know remarkable intuition and offer presence to others in ways now unimagined despite it being a path that you’d never have chosen.

The power of grief should never be downplayed or underestimated.

Grief is a private journey.

Don’t mess with it, not in yourself or in others.

It’s a crazy, unruly, companion.

Rev. Rod Smith is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Castle.

October 28, 2021

It’s you; it’s me!

by Rod Smith

There’s a common denominator in all of your relationships: it’s you. I am the common denominator in all my relationships. This obvious truth is hidden from some, and an even startling truth when discovered for others.

“I’ve never thought of it that way,” a client might say. “Are you sure?” another may question, as if this is some form of heresy. Yes. I’m sure. And, the realization and embracing of this fundamental truth – and doing something about it- is yet another means of taking personal responsibility for our lives.

I have no doubt this is a monumental burden for some when understood, and, nothing within me wants to “blame the victim.” There are groups and individuals so downtrodden and so “owned,” that such thinking seems impossible and such thinking may be considered blasphemous. I grieve when encountering such individuals and groups. A flame burns brighter in the one who sees this invaluable nugget. It may take a while for it to become a fully fledged sustaining fire.

But, it will. Usually. At the core you (and I) will be even more beautiful than we already are (yes, all humans are beautiful) when we see and embrace the fact that we are each the common denominator in all our relationships.

October 27, 2021

Grandmother Love

by Rod Smith


Babies bring cataclysmic shifts to families. 

Hours after my son Thulani was born I knew I would choose a grandmother for him.

I called my friend Judy from the hospital very early in the morning of the baby’s first full day and informed her I had chosen to adopt a baby and that I would like her to be his grandmother.

Judy was an outspoken member of the church and whom I had gotten to know well through the death of her beloved husband. She would freely recount how I had deeply angered her when I asked her if she was ready to bid her beloved Dick goodbye as he approached death. 

Within days we buried him.

My “insensitive” question at the hospital was what she said she really needed to hear. Judy would usually then proceed to brag that she was the only “no vote” when the congregation made the decision to “import” me from South Africa.

“There’s no one here in the USA? We have to bring an African, really?”

Soon after my early morning call Judy marched into the hospital ward, sat, motioned for the baby, held him, embraced and welcomed him. 

“I’ll be Nana Judy,” she said, then shifted into action. Hand outstretched for my house keys she asked which bedroom would become the nursery.

Within hours it was.

Nana, propelled by an eight pound baby, could make things happen.

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.