Question: As we enter the New Year, I do so with trepidation. I lost my job and have not had the financial means to support my family as I have in the past. Unemployment payments have been on again, off again, even though the proper documentation has been provided that proves the income is necessary to help my family. I’ve never, in my life, had to depend upon government aid nor food banks just to get by as I’m doing now. I’m not certain if I’ll be hired back at my old job but, in the meantime, I’m looking for a new one.
My problem is I’m constantly depressed but I don’t let on to my wife or kids that I am. I’m trying to keep “a stiff upper lip” even though I don’t believe what I tell them. I just don’t want to drag them down to the doldrums that I’m in. Any ideas to help me get through this most difficult time are greatly appreciated.
~ Discouraged Dad
Dear Discouraged Dad,
It has certainly been an extraordinary 10 months since COVID-19 became prevalent. The global pandemic has exposed all the existing weakness in the U.S. health care system. The growing inequity in the U.S. economy also became more marked as unemployment, failed small businesses, and homelessness increased greatly and only the most wealthy thrived. You are not alone in your trepidation and are wise to reach out for help.
If you have not consulted a health care provider regarding the depression that should be your first step. Many are experiencing what you are going through and support is available. Getting enough exercise, particularly outside, is recommended for mood lifting. If your home has a place for a garden or a few containers for vegetables that might be a fun family activity and save money on food.
No one knows how the post pandemic economy will develop but it is unlikely to recover many of the jobs lost. I believe it will be fundamentally changed as employers realize telecommuting benefits and more retail moves online. On the positive side, as humans wean ourselves off fossil fuel there will be many new jobs in sustainable energy production.
Now is a good time to rethink your contributions to the family as well as how you make a living. There is no need to continue in traditional gender-based roles. Your wife is likely to be well aware of your fears and feeling plenty of her own. I urge you to openly discuss your concerns together. You don’t mention your children’s ages but if they are at least school age, they are very likely to have worries too and would benefit from being involved.
Does your wife have talents and skills that are more in demand now? Maybe she can bring in some income and you take on the household and child rearing chores. Perhaps more education would make both of your job future prospects better; have you considered distance education opportunities? You could help each other learn. Focusing on goals together can help you from dwelling on the current situation.
While you reshape your future, there is no shame in accepting temporary help; it allows someone else to feel good about giving.
My best wishes for a better 2021 for you and your family,
Dear Discouraged Dad,
First of all, I do appreciate and understand your sense of fear, discouragement and depression over your situation. I understand your sacrifice of self just to put on a brave face for the family. I think every man who has gone through what you are going through (economically challenged, feeling seemingly alone, unsupported and entirely self-reliant) has felt the same. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
I am going to tell you a secret to get through this and bring about the good you desire for yourself and family. I am putting the equivalent of an encyclopedia into a nutshell. It will be up to you to flesh it out.
Let us begin with the image of the Baby Jesus as the infant of Prague. In the left hand he holds an orb, symbol of the world and his power over it. His right hand is raised showing two upright fingers. The meaning of this gesture is to “fear not.” Now why, in light of all you are going through, should you not fear?
Dr. Ernest Holmes, founder of the Science of Mind, once said that all we need to do to change what is outside of us is to change what is inside of us. In other words, what you think is what you get. To put it another way, what you believe is what you get. Indeed, in the Bible Jesus tells us that it is done unto you as you believe. Dr. Joseph Murphy, another practitioner of this Science, put it this way: Life mirrors back to you what you think/feel into it. You can think fear thoughts into life such as lack and limitation. Or you can think faith thoughts into life, such as prosperity, support, supply and abundance. Whatever you think, good or bad for yourself, will manifest as your experience.
Now to be clear – we are not talking about a faith or belief in Jesus. There are plenty of good, decent and believing Christians living unhappy, challenging, chaotic and unfulfilled lives, and that is true of people of every faith and belief system. When we talk about faith, we are talking about an unshakable belief that the good you choose is already triumphant and ready to manifest. It is like the faith of Moses who, when confronted with the seeming obstacle, blockage and limitation of the Red Sea, merely raised his rod (a symbol of righteousness or “right thinking”) and commanded with his word for the waters to part; and a way through was made for him.
You can do the same. Anyone can do this. To paraphrase Dr. Holmes, we merely ask, believe and receive. That is the real meaning of living a life of faith.
Living a life of faith is one of choosing faith thoughts over fear thoughts, even when the seeming worldly evidence appears to be on the side of fear. Like Moses (with the pharaoh’s army at his back), do not doubt the power that is yours or its ability to do as you ask even if you find it difficult to believe it is true. It is true. We are not focusing on the outer world, which is merely the stage upon which things appear. We are focusing on the inner world, the creative thought and imagination, that brings forth things into the world. The only effort required to manifest them is our belief they will manifest. Again, as Jesus said, it is done unto you as you believe. As a result, the infant of Prague reminds us, is we can walk this world unafraid and at peace even in the midst of challenge and chaos.
Here’s a little affirmative prayer for you to say. Speak it often until it becomes a part of you. Especially say it when you feel challenged or afraid: “I walk this world protected, sustained and supported by the power and presence of God. My every need in life is always met on time with perfect supply and abundance. I give great thanks and profound gratitude for the divine goodness and grace manifesting in my life. And so it is.”
Question: I just want to say I am grateful for everything I have and with everything going on in the world and even closer to home this may seem like I am not. I’d rather not exchange Christmas gifts, but my family insists. Most of them ask for wish lists as I do, but there is one who does not and “guesses” every year what to give me. This year, she gave me a purse (she’s already given me three that are in good condition) and large scarves that I’ll never use. I always thank her, but feel like a fraud doing that. I plan on returning these items because I know where she bought them. We live miles apart so she’ll never know.
Am I being a phony? Shall I just keep playing her game or is there an alternative that won’t hurt her feelings?
~ Uncertain Recipient
Dear Uncertain Recipient,
It’s a blessing to learn of your continuing practice concerning gratitude in this very unusual time in our history! Sometimes we can get so lost in the chaos that we forget to notice how truly fortunate we are, particularly when others try to gift us with something nice or useful. I don’t think you qualify as a phony, per se, but I believe your relative continues to give you items that don’t suit your needs or lifestyle because she has no real reason to change what she probably feels works for you.
Scripture tells us in Matthew 18:15 that if we have an issue with someone we should go to that person directly and attempt to work things out. The general intent is for conflict resolution; however, the practice may be viable in the context of gift-giving and receiving. When we receive a gift, we learn that the thoughtfulness of selecting and giving represents the esteem and affection the person holds for us. Gracefully receiving a gift is the reciprocal process to demonstrate the regard we have for the giver.
The difficulty appears when we receive something that isn’t pleasing to us. The action feels thoughtless and perhaps we wonder if the person understands and appreciates us. When the same situation happens repeatedly, we face the dilemma of what to do. Will she be hurt or embarrassed if you say something, or would it be easier to let it go? The situation is challenging any way you look at it. In your case, the relative seems to want to do things her way, which you noted is different than others in the family. I wonder what it would look like if you extended an invitation to meet, either in person or via Zoom or FaceTime and gently brought the subject to her attention. You might begin with an appreciation for her thoughtfulness, relay your positive regard for her taste, and then segue into sharing the types of items that are more suited to your life and style. Sometimes tricky conversations open the door to deeper understanding and appreciation. She may be grateful for your honesty.
Alternatively, you may decide that such a conversation would hurt her feelings and continue to return gifts, hoping she doesn’t discover the ruse. Another thought would be to donate unwanted items to charity. Ultimately the choice is yours.
Maya Angelou once shared the following:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Whatever your choice, remember the blessing and beauty of making another feel special and appreciated.
Be well & be blessed!
Dear Uncertain Recipient,
I’ve never heard of anything like this, at least not for years in a row. Good gift giving is a gift! Wise people ask. So you have a family member who definitely does not have the gift of gift giving but perhaps thinks she does. Or maybe, as you suspect, she is just careless in choosing gifts.
I have a few suggestions: It’s good to thank her, not bad. You’re not being a phony. Yes, you certainly should return these items! In truth, there are worse things than playing her game. It keeps the family on a holiday equilibrium. It preserves the spirit of giving. It keeps you in touch. It’s nice, albeit irritating. You could have worse gifting problems than this I suppose (like the uncle who always gave Canadian Whisky to the whole family).
You may want to try being assertive. Though she doesn’t ask, consider next year giving her a note in advance about something you really need this Christmas. Make sure it is a similarly priced item. It may be just the nudge she needs.
“A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.” Proverbs 18:16
Rev. Jon T. Karn