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  • Reverend James Squire

Never Forget


Photo by Kelly Sikkema

 

One of the things that I have learned over the years while counseling others is that often the person who comes asking for help finds it difficult to put his or her finger exactly on what is troubling them. You would think that this would be impossible as clearly something drives them into the therapist’s office. There is the old saying among therapists that “it is blood.” Blood meaning unresolved anger with themselves or others. Sometimes they “think” that they know what the problem is, but as we make our way through the therapeutic process, we discover that it is something else entirely. Sometimes the problem is an imposter covering up something even more emotionally painful.

 

Others may come to the office and say to me, “I am not sure why I am here, but I need to talk with someone as something is really bothering me.” Sometimes identifying the “real” problem can be half the way to working on a solution. When a person arrives who is struggling and knows or thinks they know the issue, I have found a few helpful phrases to assist them when they “are at a loss for words.” Even during the therapeutic process when the problem has been identified, I may use some phrases to get more to the heart and soul of the issue. I am pragmatic. I use and do what works so I may ask, “what are your hopes and fears?” or “what would you like me to pray for that would mean the most to you?”

 

If you are trying to help another who comes to you, those two questions will get you quickly to the heart of the matter to be explored. Those two questions build a foundation from which you can help another build wholeness into the ground of their being or as theologian Paul Tillich would put it to help the other to discover “the courage to be,” the title of his most important book.

 

Recently I have found a third phrase or thought that we can ask ourselves or others to get to our or their core. It comes out of me writing about the Holocaust, the plight of the people of Gaza and the Israelis’ yearning for peace and to see their hostages released. There is as well the awful event of 9/11 where most of us of a certain age can remember when and where we got the tragic news of the terrorist attack on the twin towers. It is two words that can tell us a great deal about another as well as ourselves. The words are “never forget.” It can be a source of strength or touch us with the agony or ecstasy of life. It can be something not seen by others as significant but to us has helped us and others direct our lives. That phrase can tell us where our values are much like the biblical phrase “where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” (Matthew 6:21) They are moments that may feel so personal that they cannot be shared. That is true for me. You may find yourself having feelings across the spectrum of emotions from the extremes of joy or sadness or everything in between.

 

In addition, I will ask a client what are the emotions that you love to experience or those that you will live your life in such a way not to experience. I pointed out to my ethics class that we will do anything to avoid guilt, rejection, or vulnerability. Brene Brown is one of the most read psychologists in the world. She has built an industry around her belief that dealing with vulnerability is the gateway to happiness.

 

When you can get a room full of ethics’ students to universally agree that the three emotions, guilt, rejection, and vulnerability are to be avoided at all costs, you know that you may have hit the nail on the head. It is as though this revelation has been the key to their universe and are shocked to know that others know this. They thought it was their own little secret. But knowing that this seems to be a universal truth, at least in the class, helps them to feel that they belong and are not “strangers in a strange land of being a teenager.” When I speak of all the issues that I have raised in this blog post when talking with adults, not surprising, but they feel the same way in understanding why they do what they do.

 

It is one of those topics that surprises them and hits home for all of them. Adolescents are still finding their identity and place in the world, so those three emotions are clearer in their everyday actions.

 

I give one of the final exam questions on the first day of class. They always perk up, lean forward, and get their pen or pencil to write ready to come down quickly on paper as they are still grade conscious. You will write an essay that only you can write. I sometimes have them hand it in before the final exam as a take home part of the exam. It is one of the goals of the course. “Why do you do what you do?” I tell them that the course is like a restaurant where you get a menu. You’re not going to choose everything on it, but you will choose what is helpful to you and others. You will be graded on the aspects of the course that appear in your essay.

 

There are many who will comment that even knowing the question, it is challenging to do. They must pay attention to get the right answer for them to a question that too few have never raised for themselves. A lot of the course is what they say in discussion.  They must think and feel at the same time. Their answers over the years would take your breath away with their insight. I would love to put them in a book with the title, What Teenagers Know That You May Not. But everything is confidential in the course, so the content of their essays stays with the students and me. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps this blog post could help you and me respond to Socrates challenge.

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