Daily Devotions

The Best Holiday Ever

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A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

Many of you have just finished time with family at Thanksgiving. You are probably behind in your Christmas shopping, work has one or two projects that need to be accomplished before the end of the year, and children or grandchildren need more of your time. Meanwhile, you are trying to focus on making this Christmas the best ever. The pressure, lack of personal time, and other demands can leave you exhausted, which leaves you susceptible to negative thoughts.

When the negative thoughts start to scream, it is time to stop and address it, or Christmas carols will be drowned out with “Bah Humbug!” Nick Wagnall, in his article “How to Quiet Negative Thoughts with Self-Compassion,” addresses the issue of negative self-talk with rational support. He uses psychologist and researcher Kristen Neff’s scholarship to provide support. Neff “identified 3 core elements and skills behind self-compassion – self-kindness, interconnection, and mindfulness,” as a means of not only quieting negative thoughts, but also rebuilding any damage done to our psyche.

Self-kindness is something every pop psychologist affirms, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The self-help people tell us we should treat ourselves better. But Wagnall points out that often we don’t improve our self-talk because we believe the negative actually helps. “We’re afraid to let go of our negative thoughts and judgmental self-talk because we think we need them.” That is a misguided motivation. Most of us have succeeded in spite of our negative thoughts, not because of them. 

Next, remember, you are not alone. Talking with a friend can give you perspective. Prayer allows the Holy Spirit to guide you beyond negative talk and helps you see life’s situations more appropriately. Receiving the realistic assessment that a trusted friend and God can provide helps us approach negative thoughts, not as a judge, but as a detective. Wagnall reminds us that “the capacity for self-judgment isn’t all bad…The trouble is when judgment and analysis is our automatic response to our own mistakes and suffering.” A detective’s process can help us know what is truthful about ourselves and how to respond in a way that make the situation better. Self-abuse cannot be a healthy motivator. Take responsibility with a detective’s attitude toward your thoughts this holiday season, and watch this Christmas be the best ever.

Facing Death with Blinders On

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By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

Death is a reality for all of us. Yet, most of our society avoids thinking about it. Most will go to just about any length to avoid the thought of our own mortality. Consequently, we’re bad at death. That is why I was drawn to an article by Dhruv Khullar, entitled “We’re Bad at Death. Can We Talk?” Khullar states, “For years the medical profession has largely fumbled the question of what we should do when there’s nothing more we can do.” Over and over I have watched people suffer in the final months, weeks, and days of life. I believe most physicians have been taught to save lives, but have not been taught how to help people die. Many physicians struggle with the elderly because they consider death a failure.

Speaking of the last month of life, Khullar points out, “In their last month alone, half of all Medicare patients go to an emergency department, one-third are admitted to an I.C.U., and one-fifth will have surgery-even though 80 percent of patients say they hope to avoid hospitalization and intensive care at the end of life.” Instead of guiding those at the last stage of life to address the reality of death with dignity and comfort, we often keep trying to “fix” them in painful and unnecessary ways. Palliative and hospice care are often ignored.

In rural areas and in the southern part of our country, palliative care is hard to find, and when available, it is often understaffed and underfunded. Further, almost half of white Americans use palliative or hospice care at the end of their lives. Only one-third of African Americans and 28% of Asian-Americans use palliative care or hospice. We can do a better job of teaching the benefits of facing death in a different way than fighting to heal individuals at the end stages of life. We need to address these opportunities around the country, especially in the south, and among all our people.

As Christians, I believed we are called to model healthy living, and healthy dying. Healthy dying includes facing the reality of our death with courage. This courage includes facing death with clear planning. This planning includes having a living will, discussing your desires with your family, and deciding how you wish to die, whether at home, at hospice, or hospital. Finally, make your funeral arrangements, including the funeral service. Share how you want your body disposed of after death. Pray for God to impart the courage for each of us to face our own deaths, and be faithful enough to guide our loved ones, so they can focus on remembering us fondly and celebrating God’s fulfillment of the resurrection, unto eternal life.

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