When my husband, Tim, and I were engaged, the couple who led our marriage prep classes reassured all the new couples that while partners argue over everything from how to hang the toilet paper roll to who gets the TV remote, there are really only a few major areas couples fight over to the point of causing stress in their relationship: Parenting, Money, Religion and Sex. Oh. Is that all? For goodness sakes, people. WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Basically what our sweet pre-marriage counselors were saying is: at some point you’re gonna need help. Can I get an amen?
People seek help from therapists, counselors, pastors and well-meaning friends with armchair degrees for all kinds of reasons. Stress at work, parenting and family issues, marriage trouble, depression, mental health issues, job change, loneliness, divorce, grief. The list is pretty endless, so don’t you dare think you have something that no one has ever heard of. Still, there is a stigma attached to seeking professional help.
I taught parenting classes for years and I was always disheartened to hear people explain that they were embarrassed to sign up for the class because it made them look like a bad parent. No – you know what makes you look like a bad parent? Being a bad parent! Meanwhile, the people who sign up for parenting classes are busy having healthier relationships, more cooperative kids, and more fun!
So let’s talk about that little thing called “stigma.” It means “something that takes away from one’s character or reputation. A mark indicating something is not right.” Ok. So maybe you’re afraid counseling would take away from your reputation or people would see that something is not right. Fair enough. Wrong. But fair; I see where you’re going.
Now try this on for size: if you wear corrective lenses the chances are good you might have been diagnosed with stigmatism. Stigmatism (or astigmatism as it’s also known) has to do with the way an oddly shaped eye refracts light. (I have oddly shaped eyeballs. Just sayin’.) The stigma in your eyes causes things to look out of whack until you correct it with the help of a professional.
And of course there is the stigma of a flower — that delicate, oh-so fragile part of the flower that stands at attention in the center of the petals whose SOLE FUNCTION is to be a RECEPTIVE landing zone for everything that comes its way in order to increase its efficiency in helping to produce other flowers.
Then there’s stigmata, which – you guessed it – also comes from the same root – and refers to – are you ready for this? — the UNEXPLAINED bodily scars of some CHRISTIANS which mimic the scars of Jesus caused by his crucifixion. Think St. Francis, St. Bernadette, and Padre Pio.
The Apostle Paul ended his entire letter to the Galatians with this: “I bear on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus.” In Paul’s day, a mark or a brand might have been used for identification of an animal or slave. But Paul’s scars weren’t completely unexplained; he bore those scars because of his work in spreading the gospel of Jesus. Why? BECAUSE PAUL WAS ALL-IN. And he often paid the price for his relentless pursuit of Jesus by being jailed, scourged and beaten, not to mention shipwrecked a time or two.
So the next time you think, “Oh, I can’t possibly let people know I’m in therapy, it has such a stigma — what will they think of me?” Rest assured, we will think: there goes an incredible human being who is receptive to seeing life in a new way, and who bears the scars of having lived life all-in.
After all – what else is there?
P.S. If you think this blog is a shameless promotion of the upcoming marriage retreat at Snowmass Chapel, you may be right. If you think we’re promoting our upcoming workshop on teen mental health, you might also be right. And if you think we are promoting our Stephen Ministry & Caring Connection which offers peer to peer support for people who are hurting – YOU ARE 100 percent SPOT ON. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2. No stigma. No shame. Just the marks of life, my friends. At some point, we’re all gonna need a little help.