One of my board members recently suggested I start watching This is Us, the television drama about a surprisingly relational family. She offered to help me get started by binge watching it with me during a snowstorm.
I am loving this show.
The show focuses on the interactions between the members of a nuclear family—mom, dad, and three children all born on the same day. The show goes back and forth in time and helps us understand why each one acts the way they do based on their past history.
As someone who does a whole lot of healing prayer, much of the show rings true. We all are influenced much more than we know by our past. As I work with our people, I begin to understand why they do what they do and my heart is filled with compassion.
So, what about Randall the adopted African-American child, now a 36-year-old adult (I’m in season one) with a wife and children of his own. In the first season Randall has a nervous breakdown. The show seems to imply that this was unavoidable. It’s part of who Randall is: it is the price one pays for being brilliant, hard-working, driven, and a bit of a perfectionist. On the show we also learned that Randall had a nervous breakdown before and struggled with panic as a child.
In one of the flashbacks, there is a beautiful scene where his father, Jack, helps Randall breathe by cupping Randall’s face in his hands, looking in his eyes and coaching him to breathe with him. It’s powerful.
But back to my question, was Randall’s breakdown inevitable?
I would argue that Randall could have taken steps to avoid the breakdown. Here me now. I am not blaming him because even though help is available it is rare. There aren’t many Jack Pearson’s out there, people who have enough relational skills and maturity to be able to attune to a less mature person and lead them back to shalom.
But in the hopes of helping someone, I want to talk about this because even if we are not pushed to the point of needing hospitalization, the incredibly strong performance-oriented culture we live in affects us all. Our culture demands that we deliver no matter what’s going on in our life. Even if our mother just died. People are compassionate for a few weeks or maybe a month. Then they want you to buck up and infer that there is something wrong with you because you are still in distress.
Our culture says we defined by what we do.
What could Randall have done? If I was coaching Randall, I would urge him to pay close attention to his body. Our bodies are God’s gift to us, our early warning system. Our bodies do not lie. When our heart is racing, our hands are shaking, and we can’t sleep, we need to notice, take it seriously and stop. In the book The Body Keeps the Score Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. talks about this in exquisite detail.
We all need to learn to pay attention to what’s going on in our bodies.
We need to learn how to calm ourselves.
I have a whole sequence of things I do to calm myself and regulate my emotions. Here’s the rub. I have to practice them on my good days so that I’m able to do them on my bad days.
It’s like going to the gym. If you go regularly and work hard, training your body, it will be strong when you have to lift something really heavy or climb to the top of a mountain—or the Grand Canyon.
In the same way, you can train your mind to quiet and calm. Dr. Schore, who has been called the Einstein of psychiatry has been quoted as saying that the ability to quiet ourselves is the strongest predictor of good mental health for a lifetime.
We often see Randall out running. I would love to see him devote as much time every day to his mental health by learning to progressively relax his body, breathe deeply and let go of his burdens.
But even more important than learning to quiet his body, it seems that Randall has some false beliefs that are driving him. Who is Randall? As a child, we see him in a panic because someone else might surpass him in school. I am sure that he learned at a pretty young age that praise and attention came his way when he astounded everyone with his brilliance. This is so human. We become addicted to praise and we keep jumping higher and running faster to try to get the euphoria we experienced as children when mom or dad looked at us with shining eyes.
Those false beliefs are a trap. When we are stuck in them we lose a sense of who we are. Randall, like all of us, is so much more than what he does. Randall is beloved by God. Yet, he is also human and as a human being he has weaknesses. Randall needs to interact with Jesus because Jesus is the only one who has the right to tell us who we are. We have to actually interact with him. Trying to imagine what he might say doesn’t work. You have to listen to him.
I have a very simple video on YouTube that lead you through relaxation and then helps you interact with Jesus. Our community is seeing profound healing come from learning to quiet ourselves so that we hear God clearly.
Some of the things I’ve been hearing are this: I have you. I have it all. You can surrender your burdens to me. It is not all up to you. You don’t have to be perfect to be safe or to be loved. I love you more than you can imagine and I’m always with you.
As we spend time with God we begin to see who we are from his gracious loving point of view and we stop driving ourselves.
Here are a couple resources that I use to help get you started.
Guided breathing exercise: https://www.godhealstoday.org/free-resources/
Appreciation: Think about something you are grateful for and focus on it for three minutes. Dwell on what you appreciate; savor the memory. Over time collect your appreciation moments on your phone or in a journal or three-ring-binder so that you can read them to yourself when you’re struggling.
Shalom for my Body: This silly-looking exercise resets your nervous system. When struggling try to do it three times a day. Yes, you can do it in the stall during the work day.
Immanuel: following along with this video will help you quiet your body and interact with God so you can get his perspective on your struggles. Hint: Jesus is not as advertised! He is not judgmental! Loves you! Feels what you feel yet is never overwhelmed by the intensity of your emotions. Is always glad to be with you. Being with him is the best thing ever. Even if you don’t believe in him. All you have to do is be willing to try.
It takes time to stop and do these things, but if you practice these steps to quieting it gets easier and easier because your brain develops new neural pathways that go from the area in your brain that is active when you are in distress to your prefrontal cortex where you know who you really are and can experience joy and peace.
Thanks to the folks at Life Model Works who have taught me so much over that last decade. Especially Jim and Kitty Wilder, Ed and Maritza Khouri and Jen and Chris Coursey.