Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Family Forte: Looking for Peace for Stressed Families

by: Topher Wiles


Have you ever experienced stress? I know you have! Stress is something that happens to all of us. It kind of sneaks up on you, but you know when you and your family have got it when it hits.


There’s a tenseness in your body with the muscles tightening up and you struggle to find a peaceful state of mind. If this keeps up long enough, you can become irritable with each other and possibly even experienced fatigue and sleeplessness.


Stress, or anxiety, as some call it, is so common that it gets the very first chapter in mental health counseling book I rely on by Gary Collins called Christian Counseling.  Stress/anxiety comes onto us whenever we feel that we’ve lost control of a situation. Whenever we get in a hurry or worried we can’t get where we want, when we want to. Perhaps we’re under a deadline, and we just know that if we don’t put an immense amount of effort into meeting that deadline, we won’t get it done. It’s potentially when we’re threatened with the loss of something we regard as valuable and we’re not sure we can avoid the loss. Collins says the long term effects of consistent stress can even include ulcers, headaches, rashes, cardiac issues, insomnia, reduced productivity, relational volatility, reclusive tendencies.


According to a medical report back in 1998, Dr. Herbert Benson at the Harvard Medical School believed that “60 to 90 % of doctor visits are for stress related diseases – including hypertension, infertility, insomnia, and cardiovascular disease.”


Even the Bible comments in many places about stress, but nothing summarizes it better than Proverbs 12:25a, “An anxious heart weighs a man down.”


Stress comes naturally to all of us and our families; it's always been around. But in today's culture, Collins says, "Anxiety is the official emotion of our age!" If we repeatedly experience anxieties and get stressed out, these emotions can have a terrible effect upon us and our families. Can you remember a more stressful time for families than the recent pandemic period?


So how do we deal with this malady that plagues us and our families? Here’s a few practical ideas that benefit me and are recommended by experts.


Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School (mentioned above) showed through his studies that the relaxed state brought on by prayer reduced the impact of stress hormones in a person’s body. He said: "Repetitive prayer slows a person’s heart and breathing rates. It lowers blood pressure and even slows brain waves, all without drugs or surgery.” Time alone with God in prayer and thanksgiving is a great way to deal with stress. It is even an activity that entire families can take part in together. My kids, my wife, and I pray together every night before bed and often count blessings together. Paul, a guy in the Bible who saw many stressful times in life echoes what Dr. Benson said when he shares, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)  So if you’re struggling with stress, doctors and theologians agree, prayer really does help!


Prayer can bring peace to stress to families, but often times we also need to learn to process stressful requests better to reduce the strain. An elder at Central, Les Tubb, said that when a new problem arises that needs taken care of he does one of four things: he can DO it, DELAY it, DROP it, or DELEGATE it!  Either way, he is going to immediately choose one of these four avenues to resolve the requirement so that stress doesn’t due to an unmet deadline. Simply memorizing and following this decision-making process has been a blessing for me in my work, my relationships, and my person growth.


Finally, I recommend that you view stress in the family as something like a smoke alarm to address priorities. When you’re in your house and the smoke alarm sounds, you immediately investigate the source to address whether to put out the fire or flee.  Either way, you jump into action at the alarm.  When you find yourself feeling stressed out or you see the effects of stress building in your families, you have smoke coming from somewhere and often stress is a result of putting time, energy, and money in the wrong places. Let stress be a reminder to examine your priorities in life. Are wasted finances causing stress? Then reprioritize getting on a budget and paying off that debt. Is lack of quality family time leaving you anxious and worried? Then consider whether you’re investing too much time in work, hobbies, or video games. When we put our main priorities as the focal point of our time, energy, and finances, often the stresses of life lessen and we find more of that gift of people that God promises.


If you’re struggling with stress in your family, take a good long look at prayer, processing, and priorities as you seek to find peace. As always, my wife and I are happy to help you increase your family forte, and if you’re needing professional help with stress and anxiety, we have some great professional counselors to recommend.  Simply reach out at topherwiles@spartacoc.com. May you be blessed as you remember Paul’s promise, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.christiscentral.org.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Family Forte: One Year Effects of Isolation

by: Topher Wiles

One year later we’re feeling the effects that isolation has had on our community members and families. While some haven’t changed routines during the pandemic, many others have undergone massive restructuring of social habits which have left more people increasingly isolated. That isolation has had increased mental and physical affects. From Medical News Today we learn that depression has increased by huge amounts from 2019 to the end of 2020. “According to a December 2020 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 42% of people in the country reported symptoms of anxiety or depression that month. This was a huge increase from the 11% they recorded in 2019.”

One year ago in March 2020, I wrote about the effects of isolation that would come through the “next few WEEKS of lockdown.”  After 12 months of the pandemic have passed with some families still self isolating, we are seeing a rise in the challenges from isolation.   I have had more people with depression, stress, and anxiety issues call my office than ever before. I’ve had to refer more families going through intense marital struggles to professional Christian counselors in Sparta and Cookeville than I’ve ever had in the past. Don’t get me started on the physical struggles that have come from the stresses of the last year!

In May of 2019 the American Psychological Association gave this warning about isolation in American society.  “Loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. Forty percent of survey participants also reported they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated. Such numbers are alarming because of the health and mental health risks associated with loneliness. According to a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder or obesity.”

Wow, social isolation can have inherent health risks just like smoking, alcohol use, and obesity! The CDC’s recommendations of self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic were great for limiting the outbreak but we’re looking at some challenging side effects that are harming our families now. The good news is, there are ways God has given us to combat isolation issues.  These are suggestions I researched a year ago that still hold true today. Here are a quick four suggestions for your family. 

Begin a small group study – Last year our government administration advocated for limiting group interactions of ten people or less in March. We encouraged then and encourage you now to pick a family from church or the community and meet together once a week to study a subject. Pick a book of the Bible, a popular best seller book, or a documentary series to discuss. Maybe you and a friend can finally work on that car, bathroom, or landscaping project you’ve been putting off. Who knows, you may continue that small group effort beyond to a time with the pandemic is a distant memory. Small group interactions help families combat the challenges of isolation.

Get regular exercise – Don’t sit in the recliner all day watching the news like some have done for the last year.  As the weather gets nicer, go for morning walks with a friend, learn to swing a tennis racquet, or hit the treadmill with a friend on Facetime.  Likewise, encourage the same for your kids with some of their friends.  Enjoy those exercises that limit personal exposure but still give you social time and exercise together.  Just as you would combat the effects of depression with exercise, use exercise as your tool for benefiting yourself and your family. 

Get outdoors – Here in the Upper Cumberland we are blessed with some of the best outdoor features to brighten your day and give you a little social time.  Be inspired along with your family as you hike the scenic Black Mountain overlook in Crossville.  Go play outdoors as you hike around the top of the Ozone Falls State Natural Area. Stretch your legs on the beautiful pioneer trail at Cumberland Mountain State Park near Crossville. Enjoy the wildlife along the Collins Nature Trail near Rock Island.  Personally, I think it’s hard to beat the glorious rim trails at Fall Creek Falls and Savage Gulf State Natural Area near Spencer and McMinnville.  Go see every major waterfall within an hour’s distance in the next four weeks.  Get outdoors with your family or with another family to beat the negative effects of isolation.  

Use that technology – Facetime on iPhones and Macbooks, Google Duo on Android devices, and Skype on PCs, and Zoom are still wonderfully easy ways to connect with your friends and family from the comfort of your home.  Set up a regularly scheduled time to have video conferencing conversations with friends and family who are still isolating at this time.   Make it a point to encourage others through technology and you’ll be blessed as a family too. 

As the physical and mental strains increase on families from a year of this pandemic, remember that you have resources to help your own family as well as those neighboring in your community.  God has blessed those of us in the Upper Cumberland with so many wonderful resources and neighbors that we can truly make a difference in helping families combat the effects of isolation. As always, contact us with concerns at topherwiles@spartacoc.com with suggestions, questions, or concerns.  May God continue to bless you and your family with faith, hope, and love. 

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:36-39

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.christiscentral.org.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Family Forte: The Struggle with Depression

by: Topher Wiles

Depression.  It was the topic of one of my 20 page research papers at Lipscomb University from my pastoral care and psychology classes.  It's also an issue that Ashley and I have personally struggled with from time to time.  It is so common a struggle for families that it gets a full chapter in one of my valuable books, Christian Counseling, by Gary R. Collins.

According to renowned psychiatrists Frank Minrith & Paul Meier, the majority of Americans suffer from a serious, clinical depression at some point in their lives. Most people never seek help, but battle this struggle on their own.

Dr. Gary Collins lets us know that even Christian families experience this challenge, describing it this way. "The Christian experience has three levels.  First there are mountaintop days when everything is going well and the world looks bright.  These experiences are temporary: they can't go on forever.  It is unrealistic to expect, as many people do, that we can spend life leaping from one mountain peak to another as if there were no plains or valleys in between.  Instead, most of life consists of ordinary days when we work at our usual tasks, neither elated nor depressed.  The, third, there are dark days when we trudge heavily through confusion, doubt, despair, and discouragement.  Sometimes these days string out into months or even years before we begin to experience a sense of relief and victory.  When they persist, dark days are days of depression."

A friend of mine and fellow preacher, Jeff Strite, pointed out that Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is a surprisingly perfect case study of depression and how to help someone struggling with through the trials of it.  Elijah ran for his life, wished his life would end, slept for days, felt alone, and felt rejected.  He experienced these feelings often associated with depression for weeks on end.

Previously, this righteous prophet had preached one of the greatest sermons of his life. He confronted 400 prophets of Baal on the Mt. Carmel and exposed them as the false prophets they really were. Due to Elijah’s faith & obedience God literally sent fire down out of heavens to consume the sacrifice he’d placed on the altar and then provided a long overdue rain to end a drought.

Why would a man who preached an impressive message and experienced some of the most powerful displays of God’s power suddenly be crippled by fear, hopelessness, and despair? I’m not sure the exact reason, but the truth is, even God’s most dynamic and faithful servants can suffer from depression. Depression is such a challenge for family members in all walks of life especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, God doesn’t leave moms, dads, grandparents, teenagers, nor prophets in the midst of depression.

Long before psychiatry was ever thought of, long before depression help could be bought in the little purple pills, and long before we had professional counselors, God brought help and healing to Elijah. Here’s how.

First, God gave Elijah a restful time of meditation in a holy place at Mt. Sinai. (1 Kings 19:5-8) This place of rest for Elijah was the same place God delivered the 10 commandments centuries before to Moses. These meditative and restful spiritual experiences have been proven by science to be helpful in healing from depression. As posted on ScienceDaily.com, a 1999 Duke University study of nearly 4000 older adults revealed a surprising conclusion.  “Attendance at a house of worship is related to lower rates of depression and anxiety."  Giving our depressed family members space and meditative time is one of the best therapy tools we possess to start the healing process.

Second, after the prophet rested, God let Elijah talk while the Lord listened. (1 Kings 19:13-14) Obviously God knows all about what Elijah is thinking or feeling already, but God asked Elijah some questions that allowed Elijah to open up about his hurt and struggles. Even though he was mistaken in his thoughts, Elijah shared how alone he felt in the world. God listened, knowing that simple listening can be therapy itself.  Giving an ear to family members struggling with depression is a great tool we can use to help them heal.

Third, after rest and listening, God began to deal with the false ideas rolling around in Elijah’s head. (1 Kings 19:18) He reminded Elijah of his worth and helped him understand that he was not alone in the world, but that there were many more just like him. Helping our family members understand that they are not alone but are valued and supported can be a major change as they continue to heal from the effects of depression.

Finally, as part of the healing process from depression continued, God gave Elijah an appropriate task that he could complete. He told him to go meet with other righteous people and help them in their journey. (1 Kings 19:15-17)  Family members struggling with depression often need us to give them some appropriate direction as they continue to heal from this common mental malady and to connect them to other positive and motivated people in life.

God provided Elijah rest, meditation, listening, gentle correction, direction, and connection as the Lord helped the prophet overcome depression. We can provide the same for our family members too.

Remember, that depression is a common and strong foe gripping families in America, especially following the pandemic. Yet family members don’t have to struggle through this mental challenge alone because God has put us in biological and spiritual families to help us combat these very real trials.  As always, if you are looking for help or guidance in combating depression, you can always contact me at Central Church of Christ (931-836-2874) and I’ll be happy to listen and love in these challenges. If you’re looking for professional counseling services in Sparta to combat depression, we’d be glad to recommend the counseling services of Warrior Counseling with Natalie Whorton (931-510-8365).  May God bless your family with health, hope, and family forte.

To view the whole sermon I gave on the topic of depression, click here: Let's Talk About It: Depression.

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to grow stronger.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.christiscentral.org.