Spiritually Speaking answers personal questions and concerns from a spiritual perspective. Local religious leaders taking part in the discussion include Rev. Elaine Cho/La Cañada Methodist Church; Pastor Jon Karn/Light on the Corner Church; Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian/Holy House Ministries; Rabbi Simcha Backman/Chabad of Glendale; Rev. Steve Marshall/Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church; Levent Akbarut/ Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge; Anthony Kelson RScP, Laney Clevenger-White, RScP, Gary Bates, RScP, Sandra Shields, RscP, Kim Winders, RScP and Rev. Beverly Craig/Center for Spiritual Living – La Crescenta; Carolyn Young, LCSW; Rabbi Janet Bieber/Jewish Community and Learning Center of the Foothills; Rev. Mark Yeager/Verdugo Hills Four Square Church; Sharon Weisman/ atheist/agnostic/secular humanist/free thinker; Holly Stauffer/Postulate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church; Rev. Mary Morgan/Center for Spiritual Living – Redondo Beach; Reese Neyland/ Lifeway Church in Glendale, Senior Ministry Leader; Pastor Dabney Beck; Pastor Tim Beck, Joan Doyle, Pastor Randy Foster/Christian Life Church; Pastor Bill Flanders/First Baptist Church at La Crescenta; Joshua Berg/Humanist Celebrant; Rev. Gordon Clay Bailey/Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills; Lucinda Guarino/Leader, Social Responsibility, Spiritual Services, YMCA of the Foothills; The Rev. Fr. Kirby Smith/St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church; Rev. Terry Neven, Laura Neven/The Gathering, Karen Mitchell/Global Truth Center and . We welcome your questions and comments. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Responses are offered from the perspectives of individual clergy members, which may or may not be in agreement with other respondents of Spiritually Speaking nor the editor and staff of the Crescenta Valley Weekly.
Question: After eight years of paying alimony, my last payment was last month, per the divorce agreement. Our marriage of almost 13 years didn’t produce any children, but we have a dog, Mimi, that I’m very fond of. My ex tried to coerce me into continuing to pay alimony, but I told her she had plenty of time to get a skill that will provide the money she needs for the lifestyle she lives. Legally, I don’t have to continue paying her and I don’t intend to.
Now she won’t let me have the dog. Prior to this, we would trade off having Mimi. This may sound strange, but I’m really grieving not seeing my dog. I’d like to know how to get over this intense sadness.
~ Grieving Dog Dad
Dear Grieving Dog Dad,
It is natural to feel devastated by feeling the grief and sadness over not seeing your dog Mimi. You must miss Mimi a lot. However, you made it very clear that you will not let your ex coerce you into giving more alimony after eight years of paying her. You have done your part of supporting her and lived up to your responsibility. It is unfortunate that she does not see things eye-to- eye with you and choose to share Mimi so that both of you can love her.
I encourage you to move on and start coping with the grief. Everyone grieves differently. It is a personal and highly individual experience. It can’t be forced or hurried. Here are some tips for coping with grief: 1) Acknowledge your feelings. You have a right to feel pain. 2) Instead of avoiding thinking about Mimi, reminisce about the good times. 3) Reach out to others who understand you, even a counselor or a support group.
Lastly, I don’t recommend you to think about getting a pet for yourself in place of Mimi. Give yourself some time to grieve and, when you are ready to move forward and build a new relationship with a new pet, that’s when you should get a new pet (of course if that is what you want)!
Rev. Elaine Cho
Dear Grieving Dog Dad,
This is a sad story. An ex-wife using access to the family dog to try and receive further alimony payments now that those payments have legally ended. The best solution to resolve this is not through confrontation, but through prayer. How so? If we look at this world, we see both opportunities and limitations. Often times we are seduced by circumstance and experience into thinking the limitations are real, and seemingly immovable or unchangeable. But if we were to look afresh and anew from the perspective of the Divine, we would not see any limitations at all. Certainly nothing that endures – because everything in this world is subject to change. From a Divine perspective, we would see only opportunities – any one of which we could choose and make real. The only thing required to making them real is our belief (i.e. faith) in their being so.
Ernest Holmes, author of the “Science of Mind,” pointed out we live in a spiritual world whose physical manifestation is shaped and formed by thought. To change a situation we feel blocked by we need only to change our thinking, our belief about it. Why? Because Life reflects back to us what we think, feel, imagine and speak into it. All you need to do to change this seeming impasse with your ex-wife on the outside is to begin changing your thinking about it on the inside.
So the question is how. There are two steps. The first is forgiveness and the second is affirmative prayer where we tell the Universe what we want. Anger, no matter how righteous and justified we feel it is, is the cement that holds together any negative situation or condition. In order to dissolve this limiting situation where your visitation rights are denied and to bring forth its healing, we must begin with forgiveness. Forgiveness dissolves the cement of anger. Once we begin to dissolve anger, the limitation you are confronting, and its power over you, collapses. So the first step is to begin with is forgiveness of your ex-wife for what she did. The second step is to begin to create in the Mind what we wish to occur. In this, we use affirmations (or preferably affirmative prayer) to create, shape and form on the inside what we wish to manifest on the outside.
Here’s a small prayer affirmation that will help. Repeat it often, especially when you feel challenged or upset over the situation: “I know that it is God’s will that there is a perfect healing between myself and my ex-wife. There is a renewed mutual respect, understanding, acceptance, good will and forgiveness of all things past in our relationship going forward. I know that my dog Mimi and I are happily re-united. I give thanks for this wonderful blessing and so it is.”
Say this until you “feel it real.” Then witness the positive changes unfold before you.
Anthony Kelson, Religious Science Practitioner
Question: My family and I just had a very spirited conversation about “the right to die.” I told my four adult children that if I became infirm, miserable, in considerable pain and a burden to them, I would consider having my life ended with a physician’s assistance. This is when the fireworks began. Three of my children agree and my oldest son disagrees vehemently for spiritual reasons. I believe this is my decision, not his. I pretty much dropped the subject because, for the most part, we all get along great. Still at the back of my mind is the sinking feeling about my son’s opinion.
Shall I just leave this alone or try to convince him this is what I really want? And, if I should try to convince him to change his mind, how would I go about doing that?
~ Made Up My Mind
Dear Made Up My Mind,
Although this discussion can be uncomfortable and seldom leads to a consensus, there is value in sharing your end-of-life choices with your children sooner than later. And, whereas the final decisions are yours, you may not gain their unanimous approval. Children feel various degrees of responsibility toward their parents’ wishes and are often conflicted by their own fears. These fears can revolve around honoring you as their parent, anticipating the emptiness of their personal loss with you being absent from their lives and may, as you’re hearing, conflict with core spiritual values. Scripture informs in Job 33:4 that “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” This passage reflects the sacredness of human life and leaves the power to give and take away that life in God’s hands. There are many other Scriptures that speak about the sanctity of life. These passages are foundational to many spiritual disciplines. There are also many passages that clearly state that children are to “honor your father and mother” the most noteworthy being in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12). This may cause some deep conflicting emotions for your son who is struggling with how to honor your wishes.
There’s a good chance that your older son will not meet you in your decision, which might cause an unnecessary a rift in your relationship. The choice, ultimately, is yours and you have the capacity to document your wishes, whether or not he concurs with your choices. You might consider completing something similar to the Five Wishes and be sure you have all your legal documentation in order. The reality is that should you become incapacitated, appropriate documentation will inform the actions taken. In this way, you will have your final requests available and may not need to weather the storm of trying to convince your loved ones of your right to choose.
Blessings of peace over you and your family!
For more information on the Five Wishes, the organization Aging with Dignity has wonderful documents that can be reviewed, completed, and then shared with your children. You can access the Five Wishes at https://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes/about-five-wishes.
Dear Made Up My Mind,
Thank you for opening the door on a very important question. As you well know, death is the great equalizer and none of us gets out of life alive. That being said, you and your family have work to do.
On first thought, after many years of working with congregants who are elderly and/or infirmed, I had a very direct response. You see, my faith tradition provides a means for each individual to select their own path of spiritual direction and no human being has the right to impose a theological or faith-based response to the very real life decisions we all must make. Unitarian Universalists believe in the individual right of conscience and, if a loved one chooses hospice or physician assisted end-of-life, that is their path, that is their choice and we, as respectful family and friends, accept their path.
However, as a son of an elderly mother and as a chaplain for many years in both hospitals and nursing homes, I feel this question and the answer required is more nuanced. I am very aware that once I pass away my children will be the keepers of our family. I am also aware that the ways we discuss and develop end-of-life plans with our loved ones will make a great difference in how they deal with our death and the loss of us.
So my friend, my humble advice, if you choose to use it, is to keep your choice. If illness and/or loss of ability force your hand, then you do what’s right for you. But please work towards an understanding with your son now. You may not bring him over to your side of the equation but in the process, he will see that you hear him, understand his position and respect his place in the family.
The ultimate decision rests on your shoulders, not his, but as his parent, I’m sure that you want to leave your family intact, in good relations and holding onto the love that has sustained you all through the years.
Best of luck in the conversations and if you need assistance, there are counselors and clergy that will help facilitate the discourse.
Reach out as need be.
Rev. Gordon Clay Bailey