“The Treasure Seekers” by Forest Benedict

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Over the last few weeks my young sons and I excitedly searched our city for Blackbeard’s buried treasure. We attended weekly pirate shows where new clues were released, seeking to decipher their mystic meaning. Armed with sunscreen and a shovel, we adventured across Fresno, discovering new hiking paths and swimming holes. The scalding sun and real-life responsibilities were all that restrained us from squandering the entire summer on our hopeful quest for the gold in the ground. The plot amplified as a community of seeking scalawags arose around us, increasing the competition for the $30,000 reward.

Early this week our dream dissolved with the declaration that the chest was unearthed…by someone else. Shortly after learning the news, we traveled to the discovery site. We puzzled together the clues and saw how they converged on that ambiguous plot of land. As we stood scanning the landscape, I was surprised to see grimy blankets abandoned in the dust; the remains from a homeless encampment. The ironic truth was that those clueless campers slept in poverty while untapped riches waited quietly beneath their beds.

The lesson lingers…..are we so different? Are there not numerous applications for this unsettling image? Don’t we have countless areas where contentment with unintentional, mindless, disconnected living separates us from dormant and undeveloped possibilities?

In the spiritual realm, are we not so often playing paupers, with God’s limitless treasure reserve resting within arm’s reach? We thirst for attention and acceptance from others while God’s ocean of adoration surges just steps from our toes. We sit in our shame; we wallow in our worry; we settle with our sins. Our performance convinces us that we are impoverished, challenging our reality of riches.

C.S. Lewis described this existence of lesser living in the following sentences:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

What in our lives would change if we began seeking God’s gold instead of sleeping on it?

What would awaken in us if we turned from our distractions and toward our infinitely caring Father?

What life would spring up from within if we, like David, “sought the Lord” (Psalm 34:4), experiencing a new depth of interaction with his love?

That beloved King did not find God to be a stoic, unresponsive, authority figure but recalled a genuine, embracing interaction. He wrote:

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;

he saved him out of all his troubles.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—

how good God is.

Blessed are you who run to him.

The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord

lack no good thing.”

Psalm 34:4-6, 7-8, 10

What depths of joy would splash over us if we woke up and witnessed the goodness of God?

What fulfillment would we find as we luxuriated in a connection that dwarfed every previous desire?

Would we still meddle with mediocrity?

The choice is ours. And unlike Blackbeard’s inanimate treasure, our Heavenly Father does not lay lifeless in some unknown location. He actively beckons us, whispering “wake up, you sleepers”, “stand up, you dreamers”, “open your eyes and let my radiance brighten your face”.

Despite His affectionate invitation, still, most of us will not come. We humans are injured, guarded, and unwilling to trust. We are comfortable and cozy. Despite the opportunity at hand, many of us will remain tucked under our familiar sheets.

Richard Foster wrote about this dynamic with the crucial reminder that “today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.”

May we ponder the prospect before us. May we still our minds and listen to God’s voice. May the aroma of “gold fever” fill our nostrils, wakening us to the passionate hunt for the untapped treasure that awaits. May the pursuit of the pleasure of Divine companionship become our life’s aim. May we join the gang of misfits and treasure seekers who, like us, will not relent until the priceless jewels of his delight in us cascade from our outstretched fingertips. And as we “taste and see” God’s goodness, may we savor the sweet depth of connection, while allowing a godly greed to swell in our souls.

May we never stop digging.

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Recovering from Relapse

LifeSTAR Central Valley Blog

In recovery, change is a process that never unfolds perfectly. As addicts learn the recovery lifestyle, it is essential to also learn how to respond when they fail to maintain sobriety. Depending on the degree of their acting out behavior, this experience is referred to as a slip or a relapse. No matter how it is defined, a person’s response to this kind of setback reveals the strength of their recovery process.

Shame is a normal experience in moments of perceived failure. Self-criticism naturally results from feelings of shame, yet a critical mindset only increases the chances of repeating the behavior (click here to learn more). The body responds to self-criticism by raising cortisol, which is not helpful for those wanting to make changes. On the other hand, a self-compassionate response, increases one’s ability to get back on track quickly. Here is an example of how a person…

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The Courage of Self-Connection (Another Self-Compassion Tool)

Will you have the courage to connect with yourself? Will you be brave like the Psalmist and ask “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? (Psalm 42:11)

LifeSTAR Central Valley Blog

Something is under the surface, can you feel it? You’ve sensed it many times, yet still don’t know what it is. You keep moving forward, keep staying busy, keep ignoring it, keep pretending everything’s fine. But it’s not. Something is unsettled inside. But you’re too busy to feel. It’s moments like this when addiction whispers to you messages like “escape there” and “run here”.

And all of this is for what purpose? To keep running, keep escaping, keep distracting? This is the cycle of disconnection from self. For some, this pattern was learned at a very young age. For many, this pattern is instinctual.

But stopping and turning toward yourself, connecting with what is inside, and being kind toward whatever is hiding in the shadows of your soul requires great courage. This is scary, unknown territory. Yet, for those who never take this risk, distraction becomes their “drug” of choice…

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From Addiction to Connection: The Value of Learning “How We Love”

“How We Love has the capacity to change not only your marriage but every relationship that’s important in your life” – Josh McDowell

            As a therapist who specializes in the treatment of sexual addiction, the perspective that guides my work in attachment theory. From this viewpoint, sexual addiction is an attachment or intimacy disorder. In the Healing through Connection workbook used in our LifeSTAR program, I wrote about this concept, explaining:

When a secure attachment to a caregiver is not developed, a person is more susceptible to addiction. Flores (2004), states it this way: “No one ever escapes their need for satisfying relationships, and the degree to which we are unable to form healthy interpersonal intimacy determines the degree to which we are vulnerable to substitute [addiction] for human closeness” (p. 53).

In families or other relational situations where there is abuse, trauma, emotional neglect, or disapproval of the sharing of feelings, this can teach children that people are unsafe as sources of care, connection, and comfort in times of pain. Early life experiences such as these often create attachment styles that are considered “insecure”. These styles are described in various terms such as Avoidant, Ambivalent, Disorganized, Anxious, Vacillator, Pleaser, Controller, and Victim. Knowing your personal attachment style will provide valuable insight into how you relate to others. Combine this lack of relational trust with the opportunity for a mood-altering experience, such as using pornography, and it is a formula for creating a powerful connection with a non-relational entity. Over time, this can become a person’s primary method of relieving stress, soothing sadness, calming anger, and managing other moods.

Looking at addiction through this attachment lens, one of the primary sources of healing is choosing to disconnect from addiction while simultaneously learning to connect in safe relationships. One of the best resources I have encountered for recognizing the specific ways a person disconnects from others and learning how to connect deeply with others is the book How We Love by Milan & Kay Yerkovich (2008).

READ MORE HERE:

http://lifestarcentralvalley.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/from-addiction-to-connection-the-value-of-learning-how-we-love/

 

Exercise: Good for the Body, Great for the Brain

Here’s a practical article I wrote for LifeSTAR that explains how exercise changes the brain, strengthening recovery.

LifeSTAR Central Valley Blog

We are all looking for that “miracle” experience that will infuse us with the power to reach our goals. For those striving to attain seemingly impossible achievements, such as recovering from an addiction, finding “recovery boosters” will be an essential part of the journey. Exercise is one of those powerful recovery tools, with multiple benefits.

In our sexual addictionfood addiction treatment programs, exercise is one of the “Dailies” (daily habits) we recommend. Dr Kelly McGonigal’s video entitled “Brain Science – A Miracle Cure For Willpower” provides an excellent explanation of how exercise is helpful for those in recovery. In the video, Dr McGonigal describes exercise as a “willpower miracle”, based on the current science. We all know that exercise has positive effects on us physically and emotionally. But as this video explains, exercise has a significant effect on us neurologically as well.

In our popular article on

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Essential Recovery Tool: The Self-Compassion Break

Self-compassion is gaining momentum in the addiction recovery field as an effective intervention with multiple benefits. Over a hundred journal articles point to conclusive results that self-compassion is “predictive of psychological well-being” (Dr Kristin Neff) in many areas.

Self-Compassion is a useful practice that supports recovery from addiction, trauma, and a shame-based identity. It is an effective tool for decreasing self-criticism, managing pain, and promoting positive change. Learning to respond to feelings and needs in a self-compassionate manner facilitates deeper connection with self and long-term healing. It has been shown that “compassionate mind states may be learned, and may alleviate shame, as well as other distressing outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, self-attacks, feelings of inferiority, and submissive behavior” (Vettese, 2011). READ MORE HERE:

Essential Recovery Tool: The Self-Compassion Break.

 

The Great Responder

“God is all mercy and grace—
    not quick to anger, is rich in love.

God is good to one and all;
    everything he does is suffused with grace.

Creation and creatures applaud you, God;
    your holy people bless you.

They talk about the glories of your rule,
    they exclaim over your splendor,

Letting the world know of your power for good,
    the lavish splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is a kingdom eternal;
    you never get voted out of office.

God always does what he says,
    and is gracious in everything he does.

God gives a hand to those down on their luck,
    gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.

All eyes are on you, expectant;
    you give them their meals on time.

Generous to a fault,
    you lavish your favor on all creatures.

Everything God does is right—
    the trademark on all his works is love.

God’s there, listening for all who pray,
    for all who pray and mean it.

He does what’s best for those who fear him—
    hears them call out, and saves them.” Psalm 145:8-19

May we call out to our Father today, believing that he hears, cares, and responds.

“Psalm 145” by Shane & Shane