What do you reach for?

Apr 2015    


What do you reach out for when you feel trapped in a corner, besieged by life’s stressors? Where do you turn to and who do you go to? Some unfortunately turn to alcohol. Some others have come to rely on medication to cool their emotions and nerves.


My client was not having a good week. The work year had started and his superiors were demanding to know his work goals and plans. This was a task he struggled with annually. To add to this, he had stopped taking his sedatives as they were inhibiting his ability to concentrate; the downside to stopping his medication was that he was feeling more irritable and easily stressed.


Earlier that fateful day, he had run an errand for his brother who was overseas. He felt good about accomplishing what was needed. But his satisfaction quickly evaporated when he felt that his father was unappreciative and overly critical. The last straw came that evening when his wife complained that he could do more to help their son with his school work. Their son had been diagnosed with learning difficulties, and care for him had put a strain on the marriage.


Enraged, my client unexpectedly announced to anyone in hearing distance that he was going to reach for a hammer. Thankfully, his wife took this threat seriously and locked herself in her room. When I asked him later why he had done that, his answer baffled me. He said that he wanted to feel “strong and safe”. I do not think that one should argue with someone holding a menacing hammer. So I could see how having a weapon could turn the tables in your favour and make you feel strong. But what about feeling safe? Was my client feeling threatened by his wife? Was it really safe to carry a weapon?


Fortunately, events that evening did not escalate further. He backed down and managed to calm down. Although no one was hurt, it was unnerving for all. As we talked about what he could do if he ever felt the same way again, I suggested that the next time he wanted to reach out for something powerful, he should reach for his Bible. I was not being flippant or trying to make light of his situation. I kept in mind that my client is a person who takes his faith seriously. So after his initial “You’ve got to be kidding” look that he gave me, he got my message.


What do you reach out for when you feel trapped in a corner, besieged by life’s stressors? Where do you turn to and who do you go to? Some unfortunately turn to alcohol. Some others have come to rely on medication to cool their emotions and nerves.


Some turn to their faith. As useful as we believe this help-seeking behaviour may be, there may be some downsides.


There is a danger of turning our relationship into merely relying on God whenever we are in difficulty. This one-sided and single-dimension type of reliance then has the tendency to reduce God’s presence in our lives to that of being a mere lucky charm or talisman. We only turn to Him when the chips are down and when we are in difficulty. Otherwise, God is like our Bible, sitting comfortably tucked away in some drawer in our lives until we need Him.


Another downside is that we may not develop other innate and Godgiven coping capacities that we may have to deal with our problems. Being a Christian does not mean we do not have problems or that we do not have to deal with them ourselves. Not developing our competencies is like being a poor swimmer who swims recklessly in deep waters without care for his own safety because he believes his lifeguard will always rescue him.


One way of managing our problems better is to try to reduce the incidence of having them in the first place by walking with God daily. God promises us that He will provide us with a way of escape whenever we are tempted and, may I add, tested. But He also tells us to flee from sin and temptation.


Finally, I believe that my client would not have reached the end of his rope if there were concerned and compassionate people that he could turn to. Each of us may know family members or friends who may just need a listening ear at their moment of desperate need. How would we respond to someone reaching out to us?

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.


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