Debra Fileta: But there’s still times when those feelings are gonna come up. That doesn’t mean that I’m backtracking, but I have to acknowledge it to make space for that grief in my life, instead of just ignoring it, pretending it’s not there because that grief isn’t a sign that I’m moving backwards or that I’m not healed. It’s just a sign of the reality that in this world, we will go through hard things, you know, and- and to be able to face those with confidence and, um, acknowledge those hurts, make space for them is one of the ways that we heal.
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John Fuller: That’s Debra Fileta, and she’s our guest again on this Best of 2021 Focus on the Family presentation. Thanks for joining us, I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: Here’s a banner statement, we’re not free from stress and trouble in this life. How about that, John? (laughs).
John: Ooh, I can notice lately that we’re not, no.
Jim: This is the world, and, in the world, you will have trouble. I think that’s right out of scripture. E- even when we come to a saving knowledge of Christ, the language we use as Christians and accept Him as our savior, we’re still going to face times of difficulty.
Jim: Uh, but we can face them with confidence that we can overcome them and have hope in our future. As we read in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God gave us a spirit, not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Jim: And, uh, you know, that’s a hard thing to remain in balance in those things. And today we’re gonna talk with our guests about how to do that. Uh, she’s got a great book, Are You Really OK? Which I would say hits that scripture directly about power, love, and self-control.
Jim: And, uh, it’s gonna be a good program. We started yesterday and-
John: And if you missed it, yeah-
John: … get ahold of us, uh, let us know how we can get that to you on a CD, or you can download it, or you can get the app, you can watch on YouTube so many different ways. Uh, it was a great conversation, as you said Jim, and, uh, I guess I should say our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, or you can go back and hear that first part at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Debra, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Debra: Thank you, it’s good to be with you as always.
Jim: Yeah, it’s so good. And I love the content you bring, as a counselor your husband’s a physician. I mean, you guys, you’re a power couple, (laughs), and you have four kids, 10, 8, 5, and three months old, right?
Debra: Yes, we do, it’s a full house.
Jim: Okay. Just on behalf of all the moms that are struggling to keep it all going, how do you just do that with everything you got going?
Debra: This is why I wrote the book, Are You Really OK?
Jim: (laughs), it’s for yourself.
Debra: We- we really have to ask that question in these types of seasons, you know?
Jim: You know, let me start there for the moms that are trying to do it all, uh, really seriously, how do you remain healthy, and I mean in every way, emotionally, physically, spiritually, how do you remain healthy with all of the things that pull on you as a mom, your kids, maybe your profession outside the home, the home, your husband. I mean how do you juggle all that and remain healthy?
Debra: Well, the truth is don’t, and you don’t do everything. And you, and it- it might look from the outside in like somebody is doing everything and doing it all well, I get that question a lot, how do you do it all? And my response is I don’t do it all. I can’t do it all, but I’ve learned to do a few things well. I’ve learned to set boundaries around my life, I’ve learned to take care of myself so that I can be filled and pour out to my family. I think in the beginning-
Debra: … as a mom, I used to feel guilty about taking the time to keep myself healthy. But now I see it as a necessity, because if I’m not full, I’m no use to anyone around me.
Jim: No, it’s really good. And that acknowledgement that, hey, I’m not doing everything well and I’m okay with that. That’s a healthy spot. Let’s do the recap from yesterday. We talked about, uh, emotional wellbeing and spiritual wellbeing, how would you recap that discussion?
Debra: Yeah, you know, Jesus calls us to love him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Our heart represents our emotional health, soul represents our spiritual health, mind represents our mental health and strength represents our physical health. So yesterday we talked about our emotional health and our spiritual health and really taking inventory of those two areas.
Jim: Uh, mental health issues affect everyone from time to time. Uh, you, we may not even be aware of it actually but how it’s dampening down our feelings, our sense of joy. I mean, God says, you know, we should be people that are joyful but sometimes things detract from that. How does, uh, the way we think connect with the way we feel?
Debra: Scientists used to believe that feelings caused our thoughts, but the most recent research shows us that thoughts actually trigger feelings, which trigger behaviors. So, if we’re feeling off or doing things that aren’t the things, we wanna be doing, we’ve got to really backtrack and take a look at our thoughts. What’s on replay, like I call it. I have four little kids so when I get in the car oftentimes-
Debra: … there’s some child CD playing, you know, some nursery songs or what have you.
Jim: Let me guess wheel on the bus goes round and round (laughs).
Debra: Yeah, something like that. It’s definitely not the Focus on the Family program-
Jim: Wasn’t that long ago.
Debra: … because of, you know, my kids are listening to all of their little kid’s songs. I remember once I went on a trip in my car without the kids and after an hour, I realized I could change the channel.
Debra: I can go listen to Focus on the Family or a podcast.
Jim: It’s an adult moment.
Debra: This is, but you’re so used to what’s on replay-
Debra: … in the background, it just becomes the norm. Our thoughts are the same way, we get so accustomed to certain thought processes on replay that we don’t even feel the need to change them.
Jim: Yeah. Wow, that’s powerful. How does God interact with that in our lives? I mean, what is he saying to us in that regard?
Debra: Well, God wants us to replace the patterns of our past with his truth, right? And many times, the pattern of our past is how we think. Those negative thoughts, in counseling we call them cognitive distortions, they are faulty ways of thinking, maybe something like black or white thinking where you see things in extreme. Maybe something like catastrophizing, where you’re always looking at the future and seeing the worst-case scenario. We’ve got these default patterns of thinking maybe it’s a self-critique, where we’re always thinking negative things about ourselves or the people around us. God wants us to identify these thought patterns and begin replacing them with his truth.
John: Yeah. That’s where I’ve, I come to have a phrase of truth before trivia.
John: I still like to look at and gather a lot of information, but as a believer, I’m trying to let God’s word, the scripture be my reference point for the day and where I spend a lot of time. Um, it’s not like it’s, you know, for every minute I read an- an article online, I’m reading the scripture, but I want his truth to be the thing that’s transforming my mind, not the world making my thinking, uh off-base.
Debra: I love that. And it’s essentially the question of what am I downloading? You know-
Debra: … what am I downloading each and every day? And are they things I’m downloading from my past, are they things I’m downloading from what I’m looking on the internet scrolling Google, or am I filling my mind and heart with God’s truth?
Jim: When, y- you mentioned the book, several things that, uh, you need to understand in getting your mind straight with truth, right? So, uh, you use the terminology black and white thinking, all or nothing thinking, overgeneralization, minimization and magnification, mind reading, fortune telling, and this one I could really relate to as catastrophizing. ‘Cause I think the culture, we- we are living in that right now where-
Jim: … everything is a catastrophe. I mean, you talk with family members and it, if it’s not COVID related, something is, uh, you know, it’s fear.
Jim: Speak to some of those or maybe the one or two that really capture you had emotional reasoning, should/could/would statements, labeling, personalization, there’s a lot there and it’s all in your great book and people need to get it for the complete-
Jim: … uh, definition. But what- what are one or two of those that I’ve mentioned that st- stand out to you?
Debra: You know, something like should/could/would, you spend so much time thinking about what you should have done in the past blaming yourself. Um, like you mentioned, catastrophizing, we’re always thinking of the worst-case scenarios filled with worry and fear. The way that we think begins to change our brain physically speaking, it begins to change the neuro pathways, which then begin affecting our emotional health, our mental health. And so, there’s so much power because how you think impacts your life. When you change your thoughts, you begin to change your life. And that’s why something that people are so passive about, what’s on replay, they don’t even think twice about it, we’ve gotta work to take inventory of our thoughts. The Bible says, take every thought captive. In counseling, we call that cognitive behavioral therapy, you know, but God thought of it long ago, transforming our mind. And making sure that what’s flowing out of our mind is bringing us health and not the other way around.
Jim: So, when you’re dealing with that person sitting in front of you in your counseling office, what are two or three things you can encourage them to do? What are steps they can take to begin to not be overwhelmed by the world and to transform their mind according to Christ?
Debra: First and foremost, I think you’ve got to face your thoughts. Sometimes they’re so automatic you don’t even recognize them. So, one thing that I have people do, and in fact, this book is actually interactive. It’s not meant to just be read; you journal through it. You know, you- you journal as you’re going through. And one thing I have people do, especially during this section is begin keeping track of their negative thoughts to put them on paper, to start seeing patterns in the way they think that they might not have recognized before. And then when we do that, we have the one side but then we begin to replace it with God’s truth. What does God ultimately say about these things? What am I ultimately believing? Am I believing this side of the spectrum, the dark side? Or am I clinging to the light of God’s truth?
Jim: When you look at the culture, um, how much impact is the culture on us in this regard? Uh, whether it’s social media or certainly body image for women and men to a certain degree, there’s so much emphasis on things that scriptures clearly saying aren’t the important things. And so little emphasis on character and things that scripture does say are critical.
Debra: Right. Culture gives us a false measuring stick. It gives us a measuring stick as something we can never achieve or attain and maybe even shouldn’t try, you know, whether it be physical appearance or money or success or power. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to achieve those things that we neglect the most important things of how we’re doing on the inside. From the inside out our emotional health, our spiritual health, our mental health, even our physical health. These are the things that we needed to align all of who we are with exactly all of who God wants us to be.
Jim: Yeah, and in the book, you do, uh, go to great lengths to talk about areas where we need help mental, uh, illness being one and the way the culture and particularly the Christian culture can shame people that are struggling in that area. I just want to make sure we’re really clear on that. We’ve done some programs on that before, and we get a lot of response from folks who feel very strongly on both sides of this issue. As a counselor, with that person, again, sitting right there in front of you, how do you encourage them to seek the help they need and still maintain, uh, a healthy understanding of God’s love for you, his concern for you. But yes, you can get some help-
Jim: … if you don’t have enough serotonin on your nerve endings. I mean, it can be that simple.
Debra: You’re absolutely right. I recently on my blog wrote an open letter to the depressed Christian and I explained to them, which I also cover in this book that this is not a reflection of your faith. This is not a reflection of your strength. This is not a reflection of your relationship with Jesus. You know, this is a struggle that you’re walking through and many times, this is the catalyst to your faith. I look at the times of depression, the darkest seasons for me, when Jesus was truly the closest, I felt him near to my heart. And I’m grateful. He walked me through that process of healing with therapy and medication because you know what, even therapists can benefit from therapy and counseling. I don’t just preach this because I’m a counselor. I preach it and teach it because it actually impacted my own life during those hard seasons.
Jim: Yeah, that is so good. And I hope people are hearing that heart that you have and that we share, you know, Focus on the Family.
Jim: Sometimes in the Christian community, you know, we get criticism for talking about the idea that- that people can get help through counseling, they can get help through medication, et cetera. Break down some of those myths, just hit ’em bang, bang, bang, what would you say?
Debra: I think many times what we try to do is offer spiritual solutions-
Jim: What does that sound like in that conversation?
Debra: … to mental or emotional problems.
Debra: You know, things like you need to pray more or here’s a Bible verse dwell on scripture, when you’re in the thick of depression or anxiety or a panic attack and your brain is not working properly, your amygdala, the part of your brain that’s responsible for emotional memory is going wild. Your neocortex, the part of your brain that’s responsible for logic is dulled down. You can’t think about scripture in that moment because you’re that part of your brain isn’t actually working properly. And so, for us, we have to realize that sometimes those blanket statements actually cause more hurt than help. Of course, we need Jesus and the spirit and his guidance. We need prayer. We need to meditate on scripture at the proper times. But I think just putting those spiritual solutions on these mental and emotional issues can actually cause damage, can leave people feeling, shame and defeat rather than being encouraged, that they can find hope and healing.
Jim: Yeah, it might be i- in, this, uh, is just a thought but you might wanna stop and actually pray with that person rather than give them advice as to what they can do. Stop and pray.
Debra: Pray for them.
Jim: Yeah, yeah.
Debra: If they can’t pray for themselves, you cover them in prayer. But not only that it’s really taking the next step, how can I help you? Just like you would, if somebody was sick with cancer or someone just had a baby and they’re unable to- to help themselves in certain ways come alongside of them, stay present, see what they need, ask them how you can help. I think that’s the thing that we as the body of Christ could do a better job at is helping people walk through their struggle rather than dropping off a Bible verse and saying goodbye.
John: Mm, yeah and avoid those prescriptive prayers. You know, we have a tendency sometimes to pray to the person, instead of asking God to intervene.
John: We want to avoid that. Well, we wanna help you find health and wellbeing and, uh, our guest today on Focus on the Family is Debra Fileta and, um, she’s written this great book, Are You Really OK? Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. And of course, we have copies of that here at the ministry, just get in touch. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Uh, Debra, y- you touched on this a while ago, but I- I do wanna come back to it because it is such a tender spot and it’s something that a lot of women and their husbands experience. And that’s miscarriage, take us through that. Both as a wife, a mom, but then also as a counselor and what you yourself went through and how that can benefit others.
Debra: Yeah, I went through a traumatic miscarriage that didn’t actually impact me until a few years later. Um, I think sometimes we think that the impact is gonna happen right away and we’re not prepared for when the trauma comes back a little bit later, we-
Jim: Did you, did you feel disconnected at that point? I mean, you’re in it. You- you had this miscarriage, and you know, the language, you’re a counselor, were you questioning, how come I’m not feeling this more deeply or are you just trying to survive and get through it and hug John and you know?
Debra: I think that’s what it is. I think as a mom, when you go through something traumatic, like a miscarriage and for me, it was even an emergency surgery where I almost lost my life, you come home, and life doesn’t stop. You’ve got the kids, at the time we had three kids.
Debra: You’ve got the ministry, you’ve got work, you’ve got your husband. You are in survival mode. And when you’re in survival mode, you don’t have the time or the energy to stop and really process that loss. Of course, you feel the loss on a superficial level, you cry, you talk about it. But I think we’re surprised sometimes when trauma comes back later, sometimes we feel like we’re backtracking. You know, maybe I didn’t really heal, but I want people to realize that God has made it that way. We heal in layers-
Debra: … one layer at a time. And just because whatever trauma you’ve been through might be coming back in this season doesn’t mean you, mean you haven’t healed, but it might mean that God wants to heal the next layer and the next layer and the next layer.
Jim: That’s really insightful and I think it actually indicates something for all of us as human beings created as we are that we might expect that to happen, not in layers, but in like one stage.
Jim: We’d go from wound to healed. And the fact the way you described that as being in layers, I don’t know what, um, if it’s in pa- we’re just not patient enough. We don’t understand the mechanisms that God has giving us for healing, but all of it’s kinda wrapped up in there, right? And I could just feel a person shaking his fist at God because that healing has not occurred and they wanna get there and they’re just frustrated.
Debra: Right, we wanna see immediate results, you know?
Debra: That’s the reality, uh, nobody wants to linger in the process of healing. But that’s exactly when the process of healing is most effective. Think about losing weight, when you do that diet and lose 10 pounds in a week, that 10 pounds is gonna come right back and then some. But when you take your time to heal, when you’re deliberate and intentional about really getting into those wounds and dealing with them little by little that’s when healing is more long lasting and permanent, that’s when it becomes a part of your life.
Jim: Yeah, in that respect, how do we measure that? So that we know we’re not standing still. We may not be there yet but we’re making progress. How do we measure that?
Debra: I think being deliberate about setting goals, um, we talked earlier how easy it is to go get a physical checkup, but how rare it is to stop and take an emotional, spiritual, mental inventory. So, the question I would be asking is what is God healing in your life today? That’s where we need to stop and ask ourselves-
Jim: That’s a good question.
Debra: … if the answer is, I don’t know, not much, you actually worry me the most because you feel like there’s no need for healing. You feel like you’ve arrived. There’s nothing that you identify in your life, whether it be emotional, spiritual, mental, physical. For us to constantly be growing in the process of sanctification, we’ve got to be doing these check-ins on a regular basis.
Jim: I would think that another way to make that statement is that in this life, we should all be striving for something better.
Debra: Right, there’s always-
Debra: … there’s always the next level.
Jim: Place to grow.
Debra: That God is longing to take us.
Jim: Yeah, in that regard, let me ask this. The, um, and this is something personally for me, that’s been a bit of a struggle because I do generally tend to feel I’m in a good place and I- I wanna represent that feeling. So, I’ll- I’ll be honest about it for me. I think Jean might say, well, because of your trauma as a child, maybe you’re just looking at the shiny side of everything and you’re not dealing with, you know, the pain of what happened. And I- I understand that. And I think I have but speak to me and the people like me who have kinda said, okay, I think I’ve gotten through it. I think I’ve forgiven people that have wounded me. I think I f- you know, come to grips with what I had to go through as an orphan kid. But those that know us best might be saying emotionally, it may not be as connected (laughs).
Jim: You’re protecting, and God gives us that mechanism. It’s a protection mechanism. So, you- you don’t go as deep emotionally, you do become an inch deep and a mile wide ’cause you don’t want to be hurt. Speak to those people that may be not in tune with what their real soul hurt is.
Debra: Yeah, that’s a good one. And- and I appreciate you for being so vulnerable. You know, I’m the type of counselor that tends to be a little more candid and so I’ll tell people right off the bat, you’re not as healthy as you think you are, you know, because the Lord is longing to take us to a better place. And I think when it comes to our past wounds, of course, we- we eventually get to a place of peace. Um, you- you know, it’s not like a- a journey for the rest of time dealing with those past wounds, but we can’t be surprised when they come up at different times. It’s kind of like grief. Um, when you look at your past childhood wounds, sort of like grief, something that was lost, grief comes in waves. There may be seasons where it doesn’t impact you but then there’s other seasons where it comes through. And that’s what you have to be aware of, what seasons might my past experience be coming through. And how does that impact me in the present? How does it impact my relationships in the present? The people closest to you are probably gonna give you the most insight because what’s happening in the present, your problem spots in the present, your conflict patterns in the present tend to be a signal of the things that you might still need some healing from in the past.
Jim: Keep reaching, keep working.
Debra: Keep working, keep listening to Jean.
Jim: Yeah, I like that. Yeah, like that’s for sure. Um, you know, I, I’m reminded of a family I won’t mention their name, but they had catastrophic, uh, situation where their son and daughter-in-law got married. They took off from the reception in a helicopter and it crashed into a mountain, so they’d only been married four or five hours. And I remember standing with him, you know, months after the event and we were out by his barbecue. And he, I just said, “How are you doing?” And he said, “Well, what else can you do? You just get up and you keep moving forward, trusting that God is who he is, and all these things are taken care of.” I can’t imagine the pain of that kind of loss. He said it was the best day of my life and the worst day of my life. And it gives me tears now talking about it. But as a counselor, speaking to those kinds of situations, it’s kinda the reality, isn’t it?
Debra: It is.
Jim: You get up and you gotta keep going, even with incredible devastation.
Debra: And I think it’s important for us in those situations to realize that dealing with these types of deep hurts doesn’t have a timeline. You know, we say that time heals all wounds, well it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. In fact, some wounds when left to themselves will only get infected with time. They will get worse with time. And so, for us being intentional to really face some of that pain and realize that there’s no time limit, you know, even for me, I feel like I’ve dealt with my trauma, my miscarriage in a healthy way, but there’s still times when those feelings are gonna come up. That doesn’t mean that I’m backtracking, but I have to acknowledge it to make space for that grief in my life instead of just ignoring it, pretending it’s not there because that grief isn’t a sign that I’m moving backwards or that I’m not healed. It’s just a sign of the reality that in this world, we will go through hard things, you know, and- and to be able to face those with confidence and, um, acknowledge those hurts, make space for them as one of the ways that we heal.
Jim: Yeah. It’s an amazing thing. I think God’s formula for this life, uh, we are gonna suffer.
Debra: And we’re gonna need Him and we’re gonna rely on Him every step of the way.
Jim: And we’re gonna need that’s the whole purpose, yeah.
Debra: We’re never gonna walk without a limp. Um, one of my favorite sermons is Jon Courson actually preached it. And he said, you know, in one scenario, Jacob who wrestled with God and ended up with a limp for the rest of his life, which reminded him of his need for Jesus every step of the way, his need for the Lord. And the other scenario, a man at the pool of Bethesda was healed. Yippee, I’m healed. And people said, “Who healed you?” And he said, “I don’t know.”
Debra: And sometimes when we’re fully healed, we lose that connection with the Lord. We forget that I need Him. Sometimes the limp that we carry in life, those hardships, those struggles remind us of our deep need for the Lord.
John: What a great place to end our conversation with Debra Fileta. This has been a Best of 2021 Focus on the Family, and she has done a terrific job relating God’s desire for us to be whole and healthy.
Jim: She really has, and I hope you’ll intentionally pursue some of these aspects that Debra’s been talking about. You know, here, Focus on the Family, we know life can be a strain or a struggle. We are here for you. We have a team of caring Christian counselors who want to help. You can give us a call or go online to set up an initial consultation. We also have lots of other resources to help you. In fact, Debra’s book Are You Really OK?: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing and Why it Matters is a great place to start. You can get that directly from Focus on the Family, and when you do, the proceeds go right back into ministry, giving other families hope every day.
John: And we hear from so many who need answers to some of life’s most difficult questions. We do count it a privilege to be able to help and Jim. Let me just quickly share a word that we received from Judy. She writes, “I started listening to this radio broadcast in 1983 when I was a young mom, and I’ve been listening ever since. I wouldn’t know how to raise my children without Focus”. And then she went on to say, “I appreciate how Focus speaks into and understands the cultural changes and issues that are going on.”
Jim: You know, we’ve been through a tough couple of years culturally and we want to continue to lead that charge for the family. But we need your help, especially here as we’re heading toward Christmas and the end of the year. God can use your support to provide scripture-based resources and programs to save and strengthen families. When you give a gift of any amount today, and we’ll send you a copy of Debra’s book as our way of saying thank you. And through a special year end matching opportunity, your gift will be doubled. And that means you can really have an impact towards saving marriages, rescuing mothers and babies from abortion, equipping parents to raise children boldly in their faith, redeeming broken families, offering emotional peace, caring for children in foster care, and so much more. There’s a lot going on and your support is critical so that we can finish the year strong and plan to reach even more families in the coming year. And I’m eager to see how God will work through you and Focus on the Family in 2022.
John: Donate today and get your copy of the book, Are You Really OK? We’ve got all the details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Well, plan to join us next time as we feature another Best of 2021 Focus on the Family. Dr. Meg Meeker will help you navigate this toxic culture that we’re living in with your daughter.
Dr. Meg Meeker: Developing a strong, deep relationship with a father with a daughter or mother with a daughter. That’s what’s going to change that daughter and root her so that when she hits her 20s, she has her wits about her. She has a faith and she knows who she is.
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