Enlivening Ourselves

(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this week. We are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)


Dear Dr. Norquist:

   I am a very religious person, more so than most, I believe. I’m very active in my church. I pray a lot and always ask God for direction when I am faced with a big decision. I do my best to be a good person and to be kind and giving to others.

   So, I can’t understand why my life is so painful lately. Everything is going wrong. My husband was diagnosed with cancer, my son was called up from the reserves and will soon be going overseas, and I was recently laid off from a job that I gave to faithfully for almost 30 years.

   I worry constantly about losing my husband and my son and about not being able to pay the bills. I don’t know how God could have let this happen to me. I feel like he’s punishing me. After all I’ve done for God it doesn’t feel fair. Sometimes you write about “spiritual” things in your column. Could you help me understand why God seems to be punishing me?


Dr. Norquist responds:

   I do not believe that God is punishing you. Your question suggests an underlying belief that life is supposed to be “fair” and without too many trials and tribulations. According to the Bible, Jesus had trials and tribulations and sometimes felt forsaken by God. Does that mean God was punishing him? Be careful how you interpret any situation, as your interpretation will yield behavioral and emotional consequences (either helpful or harmful). If you see God as punishing you, you will distance yourself (emotionally and spiritually) from God, thus depriving yourself of vital emotional support and spiritual sustenance for handling your current life stressors. If you see God and your church as standing by you, as a resource and support as you deal with your fears about your current situation, it will be easier to emerge from this situation less scared and battle weary, having grown through the process.

   Like children, we have a tendency to think, “If I’m good, Dad (or God) will reward me”. But perhaps it’s not so straightforward. Perhaps what looks like adversity is actually a reward of sorts, a challenge to grow in ways we could not have grown if we were not faced with a certain type of crisis or challenge.

   Can you see ways in which your current life stresses could lead you to develop your courage, to challenge you to discover a new level of intimacy with your husband, to push you to question your religious beliefs (and thereby develop more complex, more comprehensive spiritual understandings)? Could you use your current situation to learn to let go and accept that your son has his own soul’s journey to follow, and/or to develop talents, skills and interests left behind through 30 years of commitment to one particular job?

   Life is here to challenge us to grow, to give, to connect, to develop our gifts, our character, our spiritual awareness, our overall wholeness. Adversity often assists us in the process. I’d strongly encourage you to choose an interpretation of your current life situation that helps you to rise to this challenge.

(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at drnorquist@chaitanya.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns.Ó 2016 Chaitanya Counseling Services


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